The Ottawa Senators aren't going to the playoffs, but they are at least giving themselves reason for some optimism as they look ahead to 2011-12.
The Senators look to continue their improved late-season play Thursday night when they face the Florida Panthers in a matchup of teams eliminated from postseason contention.
The Senators (29-38-10), last in the Eastern Conference, have five games left in a season that fell apart during a 1-13-4 slump from Dec. 29-Feb. 9. Ottawa, though, has managed to go 12-8-2 since while killing off 76 of 79 penalties.
"We're just doing a lot of good things," coach Cory Clouston said following a 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday that snapped a three-game point streak. "We feel we have a good strategy going into each game. The guys understand what they need to do, we're getting good goaltending and we're reading and reacting. It's a credit to the guys going out there."
Former Panther Craig Anderson has been one of the major reasons for Ottawa's turnaround, going 8-4-1 with a 1.99 goals-against average in 14 starts since being acquired from Colorado last month.
In his second start following that deal, Anderson made 23 saves as the Senators defeated the Panthers 5-1 on Feb. 23 to snap a season-worst 0-7-3 home stretch.
Anderson made 33 saves and defenseman Erik Karlsson scored twice in the final 8:48 of the last meeting, a 2-1 Senators win at Florida on March 10. That extended Ottawa's winning streak in the series to five.
Ottawa, two points back of the Panthers (29-36-12), has won three straight road games in the series and has gone 15-3-0 in its last 18 at Sunrise.
That doesn't bode well for a Florida club that scored five times during a 0-3-2 trip that ended with a 3-2 shootout loss to Columbus on Tuesday. The Panthers have lost a season-high six straight.
"We looked like we were playing our fifth game in seven nights," said coach Peter DeBoer, whose club was eliminated from playoff contention for a league-record 10th straight season Friday. "It was a real gutsy effort by our group. The last game of a road trip that hasn't been easy."
The last time Florida lost seven in a row was an 0-6-1 stretch from Feb. 1-March 2, 2010.
Backup Scott Clemmensen could make his second consecutive start for the Panthers, which could be a positive for Florida considering the way Tomas Vokoun has struggled against the Senators. Vokoun, who suffered back tightness after regulation in a 2-1 shootout loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday, has gone 3-11-0 with a 3.36 GAA in 15 starts versus Ottawa.
Clemmensen, though, allowed all five goals Feb. 23.
Ottawa will try to sweep the season series from Florida for the first time since 2006-07.
AccuScore has powered more than 10,000 simulations for every NHL game on ESPN.com, calculating how each team's performance changes in response to game conditions and opponent's abilities. Each game is simulated and the game is replayed a minimum of 10,000 times to generate forecasted winning percentages.