Senators officially eliminated by Panthers
The Ottawa Senators didn't do themselves any favours Tuesday night — nor the Montreal Canadiens, for that matter.
The Senators put in a lacklustre effort in a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla., a setback that officially removed them from post-season contention.
Ottawa sits 11th overall in the Eastern Conference, 12 points behind the eighth-place Montreal Canadiens with six games remaining, and will miss the playoffs for the first time since the 1995-96 NHL season.
"That knocks them out officially?" Panthers rookie head coach Pete DeBoer asked. "Well, that is nice — one less team to worry about.
"But we're more concerned about the teams in front of us than the teams behind us. But hey, coming into the season, who would have thought we would eliminate Ottawa with five games left?"
"It is very disappointing," Senators defenceman Chris Phillips said. "Obviously, we knew that our chances were pretty slim and that we pretty well had to win all our games with quite a few left.
"But once the reality hits home, it is harder. For myself, it is the first time.
"That makes it harder. It is frustrating when we see how good a team we can be when we play."
With the win, the Panthers remained one point behind Montreal for the eighth and final playoff berth in the conference because the Canadiens beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1.
"There is not much we can do about that," Panthers forward Stephen Weiss said. "We can only focus on our games, take care of our business.
"Hopefully, we get some help down the road. But we cannot be concerned with other teams."
'He did a great job'
Michael Frolik sparked the Panthers (38-28-11) offensively with one goal and two assists.
Bryan McCabe had a goal and an assist, while Nathan Horton, Richard Zednik and Weiss also scored.
David Booth and Cory Stillman contributed two assists apiece, and Craig Anderson counted 30 saves in his third consecutive start.
"He did a great job of shutting the door in the third, when the momentum swung a bit in their favour," DeBoer said.
Tomas Vokoun had lost seven of eight starts before the Panthers turned to Anderson, who made a total of 72 saves in 4-2 and 6-3 victories at Philadelphia and Dallas, respectively.
"One period at a time, one game at a time," Anderson said. "Let the chips fall where they may."
Chris Kelly and Chris Campoli had goals and Ryan Shannon had two assists as the Senators (33-33-10) lost for only the third time in their last nine outings.
Rookie Brian Elliott yielded four goals on 21 shots before being yanked in favour of Alex Auld, who stopped all five shots he faced.
"We really didn't come out with enough passion and fire," Elliott said. "They were all over us the whole game.
"We knew it was a big game for us and it was a big game for them. We just didn't take advantage of it."
"This is not something that snuck up on us," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson noted. "We have known the situation for a long time.
"Our focus since Cory [Clouston] got here has been not just on the playoffs but on turning things around, which we have. Now it is important to continue that momentum through the end of the season."
'It was a big momentum change'
The Panthers broke a 1-1 deadlock with a pair of power-play goals late in the second period.
Senators defenceman Brendan Bell was serving a double-minor penalty for high sticking at the time, though television replays confirmed Kelly was the culprit.
"That was a big boost for us," Weiss said. "It was a big momentum change."
Florida held an 11-8 edge in shots in the first period and Radek Dvorak had the best opportunity to open the scoring, but he fired wide of the open net after Elliott slid across the crease to make a pad save.
The Panthers took a 1-0 lead when Stillman collected the puck off the side boards, broke up ice on an odd-man rush and flicked a backhand pass to Horton, who buried it behind Elliott less than five minutes into the second period.
But the Senators tied it 1-1 at the 12:24 mark, when Nick Foligno received the puck behind the net and fed Kelly in the slot for his 10th goal of the season.
The Panthers tallied twice in 66 seconds late in the period, both power-play goals coming with Bell in the box.
First, Zednik whacked in his own rebound at the left post for his 200th NHL goal at 17:18.
Then, McCabe was credited with making it 3-1 on a slapshot that deflected in off the stick of Senators rearguard Anton Volchenkov with 96 seconds left in the period.
Weiss tipped Booth's shot 2:02 into the third period to put the Panthers ahead 4-1 and end Elliott's evening.
Campoli trimmed Ottawa's deficit with his 10th goal at 13:27, but Frolik replied with an empty-net goal with 1:32 remaining.
The Panthers haven't qualified for the playoffs since 1999-2000, when they were swept 4-0 by the New Jersey Devils in the opening round.
With files from the Canadian Press