Senators climb to 11th in NHL East standings
Edge Rangers 2-1 for 5th straight victory, 9th in 10 starts
Believe it or not, it might be time for Ottawa Senators fans to ramp up their scoreboard watching.
With 10 games left in the regular season, the Senators are within seven points of a playoff spot following a 2-1 decision against the hometown New York Rangers on Sunday night.
"You lose one game here and there, and mathematically you could be out of it," Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "Our approach is to just win every game and keep this positive thing going."
The Senators jumped ahead of Toronto into 11th place in the NHL's Eastern Conference standings. Montreal holds down the eighth and final playoff spot with 81 points, followed by Florida (80) and Buffalo (76).
Ottawa was 28th among 30 teams when head coach Craig Hartsburg was fired on Feb. 2, but has since won 15 of 24 games (15-6-3) under interim bench boss Cory Clouston and is 32-30-10 overall.
Five of Ottawa's 10 remaining games will be against teams among the top eight in the East, with two others versus Florida and Toronto.
A few short weeks ago, the Senators were considered by many to be a sure thing to miss the post-season for the first time since 1996.
Top line kept off scoreboard
What Clouston had to like about Sunday's performance was how his team prevailed without any points from his top forward line. In the previous eight games, Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Alfredsson combined for 37 points.
On this night, the opener to a six-game road trip, they watched as goals by Mike Comrie and Ryan Shannon stood up.
Goaltender Alex Auld and the Senators' penalty-kill took care of the rest. Starting for just the third time in 12 games, Auld stopped 28 of 29 shots, including three consecutive saves against Markus Naslund with less than three minutes left in regulation for his first win in four starts and first since Feb. 24.
"After the little bit of a miscue we had on the first goal, I thought [Auld] was our best player," Clouston said. "He played very well and looked composed and was very deserving of the win."
The sluggish Rangers went 0-for-6 on the power play and haven't scored in 15 man advantages against Ottawa this season. They also missed a chance to jump from seventh to fifth in the East and remained three points ahead of Montreal with nine games left.
"It clearly wasn't our night," Rangers captain Chris Drury said. "There are going to be times when you don't have it. The key is how you respond to it and bounce back."
Looking for its first four-game win streak since October, New York struck first when Brandon Dubinsky got position on Comrie and converted a Ryan Callahan pass at 2:18 of the first period to snap a 23-game goalless drought. On Jan. 10, the second-year centre scored in a 2-0 triumph at Ottawa to halt a 20-game slide.
For Callahan, the assist extended his points streak to six games (four goals, four assists) and was his first point in eight career appearances versus the Senators.
Comrie, who returned to the lineup after missing three games with the flu, drew Ottawa even six minutes into the second period. After picking up a loose puck in the high slot, he back-handed a shot over the blocker of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist for his third goal in 12 games since being traded to Ottawa by the Islanders.
"The last month and half we've shown a real resiliency after giving up first goals or tough goals, and bouncing back from that," Auld said. "Both for myself and for the team, that was big."
Seconds after Comrie's goal, Auld kicked out his left pad to deny former Maple Leafs forward Nik Antropov, who has eight points in nine games as a Ranger.
"Even though we weren't at our best, we are in the third period 1-1 and we needed to win that period, and we didn't," Rangers head coach John Tortorella said. "We are going to have a short-term memory and go back to work."
On the winning goal, Shannon took a drop pass from Nick Foligno, cut inside on former Senators blue-liner Wade Redden and unleashed a high shot that eluded Lundqvist.
"It was a relief. I wanted to do something for all my friends and family," said Shannon, who had 25 to 30 family and friends in the seats at Madison Square Garden. "For all the sacrifices that they've made, they deserved to get some payback even if they were the only people in the building rooting for Ottawa. It was a dream come true."
Rangers defenceman Michal Rozsival appeared to injure his left leg when hit by Ottawa's Shean Donovan early in the second period and didn't return.
The Senators visit the unbeaten-in-three Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.
With files from the Associated Press