SENATORS UPDATE (March 29): Coach Cory Clouston announced that Brian Elliott would start again in goal for the Senators against the Lightning tonight. Shean Donovan returns to the lineup, while Christoph Schubert will be the healthy scratch. Listen here (MP3 file) to Clouston's media availability from this morning.
The Ottawa Senators haven't missed the playoffs since 1995-96. It appears that streak is going to end this season.
Coming off their second consecutive loss, the Senators look to keep their slight playoff hopes alive Sunday night at the St. Pete Times Forum against the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning.
Following its 9-1-0 stretch from March 5-22, Ottawa (32-32-10) knew it had to win nearly every game to keep its postseason dreams going. But with Saturday's 6-3 loss at Atlanta, the Senators - 12th in the Eastern Conference - dropped 12 points behind eighth-place Montreal for the final spot.
"We played a decent first period, made good goals," Senators center Jason Spezza said. "Had a horrible second period, and they just outplayed us after that."
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Spezza had two goals and an assist. He needs one goal to reach 30 for the third straight season.
Ryan Shannon, meanwhile, looks to extend his point streak to five after recording a goal and an assist against the Thrashers. The third-year right wing has goals in three straight games to go with an assist during his run.
In the last matchup with the Lightning on March 11, Shannon scored the Senators' first goal in a 3-2 overtime victory.
Brian Elliott made 22 saves in that win, but the rookie did not fare as well Saturday, getting pulled in the second period after allowing four goals on just 21 shots.
"By no means was it (Brian's) fault," said Ottawa coach Cory Clouston, whose team fell to 1-2-0 on its six-game trip. "They wanted it more than we did. It's hard to explain that. The effort just wasn't consistent enough at times."
Alex Auld stopped nine of 11 shots he faced as Elliott's replacement. Auld made 32 saves in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Lightning on Nov. 1 in Tampa.
The Lightning (24-34-17) have struggled at home lately, dropping nine of 11. Tampa Bay, 1-2-3 in its last six overall, returns home following back-to-back losses at Montreal and Washington.
The Lightning, who are six points ahead of the New York Islanders for the East's worst record, rallied from a two-goal first-period deficit against the Capitals, but fell 5-3 on Friday.
"We played hard tonight," said veteran Martin St. Louis. "Unfortunately we didn't get the result. But I think if we play like that with that kind of desperation and intensity game-in and game-out, we'd be very happy."
St. Louis, who has a team-leading 77 points, notched an assist and scored two goals to tie Vincent Lecavalier for the team lead with 29. St. Louis has nine goals and 14 assists in his last 18 games, but just one assist in three matchups with the Senators this season.
Steven Stamkos continues his impressive rookie season after scoring a goal against Washington. The 19-year-old center has nine goals and seven assists in his last 15 games.
Stamkos, selected first overall in last year's draft, is still looking for his first point against Ottawa.