Sens look to rattle Sabres

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

Armed once again with some confidence, the Senators are going hunting for Buffalo.

With eight games left, they have their sights set on the Northeast Division-leading Sabres, a team that, before it played Montreal Wednesday, led Ottawa by five points and had three games in hand. Okay, so nobody said it was going to be easy.

“We’re behind them right now but I think that’s a goal for us,” said winger Chris Neil, whose club heads to Buffalo for the proverbial four-pointer Friday night, then hosts the Sabres in the last game on the schedule April 10. “Look over the last three games, we’ve played well as a team. If we keep playing like that, anything’s possible.”

The Senators pretty much guaranteed themselves a return to the post-season tournament (after a one-year absence) when they snapped a five-game losing streak with back-to-back 2-0 shutouts earlier this week. Key to the turnaround was the goaltending of Brian Elliott, who stopped 55-of-55 Flyers and Habs shots after being told Saturday that he would be the team’s go-to guy down the stretch.

Also large was the physical play of defencemen Anton Volchenkov and Andy Sutton, the perfect 11-for-11 penalty killing in the two games and timely goals from less-likely sources.

This week’s offence was provided by Peter Regin, Erik Karlsson and Chris Kelly — before Daniel Alfredsson finished off the Flyers Tuesday with his first goal since the Olympics. He does, of course, also have 11 assists during the 11 games.

Speaking of Alfredsson, callers to the Buffalo post-game show were convinced the Senators captain is firmly implanted inside goalie Ryan Miller’s head after Ottawa’s 4-2 beating of the Sabres the last time the teams met. Alfredsson did score twice to give him four in four games vs. Buffalo this season. He now has 37 goals in his career against the Sabres, more than he has against any other team.

“I’ve never been in his house,” Alfredsson said of Miller Tuesday. “So I can’t be in his kitchen.”

The Senators do have the Sabres’ number, however. Since the lockout, they are 24-6-4 vs. Buffalo, and winners of the last eight.

“I can’t pinpoint anything,” Alfredsson said when asked for a theory as to why. “They’re all close games. Sometimes that’s just the way it is with an opponent. I don’t know if it’s mental, we feel good against them and they don’t feel good against us ... but obviously we’d like to win (Friday) to give ourselves a chance to catch them. More importantly is to continue playing the way we are.”

Clearly, the Senators once again have confidence in Elliott, but not to be overlooked is the work of the short-handed specialists. Heading into Wednesday night’s action, Ottawa’s penalty-killing was sixth-best in the league.

The addition of Matt Cullen, who was a sizzling 13-2 in the faceoff circles Tuesday, has added to the effectiveness.

“Our penalty kill, we feel we’ve been solid all season,” said Mike Fisher. “The forwards, we feel we can go with three pairs easy, and more sometimes. We know what we’re doing and our D, we’ve got so many guys back there who can block shots and move guys out from the front of the net, keep guys to the perimeter. And obviously, when your goaltender is making saves, it makes your PK look great.”


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