UNIONDALE, N.Y. - As they have all season, the Senators battled the odds Sunday and booked a ticket to the NHL's spring dance.
Even though Daniel Alfredsson (flu) and centre Jason Spezza (birth of child) were out, the Senators prevailed and clinched a playoff spot with a 5-1 victory over the Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
In October, the thought of the Senators making the playoffs was called "impossible" for a club picked to finish last in the Eastern Conference.
As the calendar turned to April, the Senators achieved the "impossible" and will return to the post-season for the first time since 2010.
"It's great. Not only for the sake of being there and to have a chance, but to prove a lot of people wrong," said veteran defenceman Chris Phillips, who has been with the Senators through the highs of reaching the Cup final in 2007 to the lows of last season.
"Anytime we've faced (adversity), we looked at it as an opportunity for other guys ... Two huge guys out, but we didn't hang our head and make excuses. That's what this team is all about: Being a team."
Centre Kyle Turris stepped up in Spezza's absence with two goals and two assists. Milan Michalek had a goal and two helpers, Nick Foligno had two points and Sergei Gonchar also scored.
The Senators trailed early, but Turris tied in up late in the first period and Ottawa pulled away with three goals in the second. Turris capped the scoring in the third.
Only Mark Streit could beat Craig Anderson as the Senators won their fourth straight.
"We were all pumped. We knew we had an opportunity to come in here and get a huge two points, secure our own fate and not rely on other teams," said Anderson.
"This was a team effort. It was a combination of everybody pulling together the same way at the same time. It's really neat to see what we can accomplish when we put our mind to it."
Turris said nobody in the dressing room was worried when they learned Spezza and Alfredsson were out.
"(The win) was awesome. To get these wins in back-to-back games is big," said Turris, referring to the 4-3 shootout victory in Philadelphia on Saturday that helped set up the playoff clincher.
"We're a pretty loose group. Everybody gels so well together. Everybody knows those are two guys you can't replace, but we've got good chemistry and other guys were able to jump in ... Everybody steps up to try to fill those holes."
Paul MacLean couldn't have been happier to reach the playoffs in his first season behind the Ottawa bench.
"We take a lot of satisfaction for the work that the group has put in," said MacLean. "It's a great accomplishment for an organization that wants to build a foundation of winning down the road."
The Senators return home for the final week of the regular season and host the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday while heading to the playoffs for the 13th time in club history. What a way to celebrate the 20th anniversary season.
Only one year into what looked like a long rebuild, this was no April Fool's Day joke.