Ottawa Senators know what's at stake

Exactly one month ago, they were down to a prayer and a miracle.

The Senators had more points than just two teams in the entire conference, and they trailed the Boston Bruins by 14 in the wild-card standings.

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Impossible ground to make up, almost everyone agreed. Ottawa was going to miss the playoffs in consecutive springs for the first time since 1996.

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Then suddenly, the Bruins started to slip. From Feb. 8-20, Claude Julien's squad earned just one point while losing six games in a row.

Almost simultaneously, Dave Cameron's club rallied around The Hamburglar and began to work its way up the ladder.

Since losing to Carolina Feb. 16, the Senators have grabbed 17 of a possible 18 points and now trail the Bruins by five, with a game in hand.

And now there's one month left in the season, and no denying the magnitude of the B's visit to Canadian Tire Centre Tuesday night. "Up to this point, it's definitely our biggest game of the year ... it might end up being one of our biggest games all year," defenceman Mark Borowiecki said after Monday's optional practice. "This is a playoff game. This is our playoff game right now. This is the team we're chasing down. It's a good chance for us to really show that we mean business, and we're serious.

"It's one we need."

To no real surprise, Cameron will keep Andrew "The Hamburglar" Hammond on the back burner and start Craig Anderson against Boston. A head coach in the NHL for all of three months, it looked like he was making a dumb rookie mistake when he tempted fate by sitting Hammond, who was running with a 7-0-1 streak, in favour of Anderson Sunday night. But the move did not blow up in his face. Anderson's 42-save performance in a 5-4 shootout win was a four-realer, in Cameron's mind.

"I thought he was real good," Cameron said after the game. "Real, real, real good."

So now he's going to stick with his veteran goalie, barring any Anderson mishaps between now and game time, and it's a decision most should understand.

"I feel he gives us the best chance to win," Cameron said Monday. "That's the end of it. Easiest way for me to say that."

What Cameron will not say is that this is a must-win for the Senators.

"Because what happens if you lose it?" Cameron reasoned. "As a coach, I stay away from the must-win tags. Unless it's Game 7. Simply because if you lose it, what do you come back with the next day?

"They know. They know what's going on," he added, referring to the players, before turning less serious than he usually is. "That's a credit to the great job you (media) do. They know the importance of this game. I want to thank you guys for that."

While the Bruins have snapped back to life with four wins in their last five games, the Senators will be coming off their worst period in three weeks. They were guilty of sitting back and watching as Calgary outshot them 24-9 and outscored them 4-0 in the third.

In the video session the next morning, Cameron showed the players their mistakes were fixable.

"It was all pretty self-inflicted," Borowiecki said of the collapse. "Missed assignment, just not sticking to our game, not playing our system, our structure.

"As soon as we get away from our structure, you can just see it in our play. We just kind of fell apart. We had no pushback, we couldn't regroup. It's something we can't let happen."

Cameron understood how his young team could get "careless." While the Senators were up by four, they also hit a couple of posts and Mike Hoffman was robbed of a second goal by Flames reliever (on this night) Jonas Hiller.

"So you're that close to being up 7-0, and Calgary has nothing really going on," Cameron said. "What I'm worried about is we're winning 4-1, 4-2, 4-3 ... we had a chance to tighten it down and we didn't. That's what I hope we learn from."

Rather than "kill it" with video, Cameron showed the players the errors of their ways in the last five minutes of the second and up to the third Calgary goal in the final period, then told them to take the ice only if they felt like it."?

Only five skaters and Hammond took part in the optional.

"There's no system in hockey that you can play if you're tired," Cameron said when asked why he didn't have a full practice. "So this time of year, your No. 1 decision is about energy. That's why I made it an optional. I felt it gives us the best chance to be energized for (Tuesday)."

For the biggest game of the season to date, and possibly all year. For what could be their first and, should they lose, their only only playoff-like game.

For their chance, as Borowiecki says, to show that they mean business, that they're serious about making a run for a spot in the post-season tournament.

That they want to want to pull off one of the great regular season rallies ever.

Twitter: @sundonib


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