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Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson makes a save on the Carolina Hurricanes' Jeff Skinner in Ottawa, Tuesday. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press/Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)
Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson makes a save on the Carolina Hurricanes' Jeff Skinner in Ottawa, Tuesday. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press/Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Sens fall to Hurricanes as bigger foes await Add to ...

This was a game where so little went according to plan, even the special homage to the fans’ beloved team captain got garbled in the telling.

An Ottawa-based Facebook group had urged fans at Tuesday night’s game between the hometown Senators and Carolina Hurricanes to count down the 11 seconds before the 11:11 mark of each period and punctuate it with shouts of “Alfie, Alfie, Alfie”, in recognition of Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson.

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It was a nice touch, shame no one told No. 11 about it.

“I had no idea,” Alfredsson said after the game, a 2-1 loss.

“I wasn’t sure if it was a Quebec City thing or what,” he said.

He can be forgiven for being confused - an itinerant group of Quebec City hockey fans that has taken to travelling to NHL arenas has made it a habit of standing at the 16 minute mark of each period (the league left the Quebec capital 16 years ago) and applauding for a full minute.

Either way, Alfredsson got a kick out of it, once he knew what it was.

Shame he didn’t feel as good about the game.

Though the Senators have already locked up a playoff spot, the setback means they can no longer catch the New Jersey Devils for sixth-place in the Eastern Conference.

And that, in turn, means a date with either the second-place Boston Bruins, who are currently the seventh-seeded Senators’ likely opponent, or the conference champion New York Rangers should Ottawa slip to eighth.

Given the play of the teams around them, most notably the Florida Panthers, that's a distinct possibility. If Washington wins its final two games, including a head-to-head with Florida on Thursday, and the Panthers then fall to the Hurricanes Saturday, the Capitals will win the division because of the tie-breaker.

The Buffalo Sabres, who are threatening to swipe the Senators’ mantle as NHL comeback kings, can't finish ahead of the Senators, but if the Panthers, who missed a chance to clinch the division, slip in their final two games, Buffalo could finish eighth.

What is known is the Senators will either finish seventh or eighth.

On Tuesday they were unable to convert early power-play chances, and were largely outplayed in the first period.

With the ice barely dry in the second, Carolina’s Brandon Sutter wheeled in on the Ottawa net and his inoffensive wrist shot somehow wriggled through Craig Anderson’s pads.

“Hopefully we’ve got those out of our system,” Anderson said later of the bad bounce.

With the Ottawa defence at sea and Anderson out of position a few minutes later, defenceman Erik Karlsson made a last-ditch stab to stop a Jeff Skinner shot from crossing the goal line.

From that sequence, the Senators swept up ice three-on-one, and Nick Foligno’s hard shot bounced off Cam Ward, up into the air, and caromed off Chris Neil’s upraised arm into the net.

But the goal was overturned on video review, leaving the Senators puzzled and not a little miffed after the game.

“I never got an explanation, I thought it should have counted,” said Neil, who said he lifted his arm to protect himself and the puck went off his shoulder, but “obviously (the referees) see something I didn’t feel.”

Alfredsson’s disgust was more pointed (“I cannot believe it’s not a goal”) while coach Paul MacLean merely pointed out that the incident was “eerily similar” to a goal in Ottawa’s recent win over Winnipeg that was allowed to stand.

The decision proved pivotal - a few minutes later, the Hurricanes cashed in on a power-play to double their lead (Ottawa would flub five chances with the man-advantage, which has to be a cause for worry heading into the playoffs).

The Senators pride themselves on their indomitability, but not every lead can be clawed back.

The home side found its stride in the third period - until then the best chances to score were a Neil breakaway and a Jason Spezza shot that clanked off the iron to open the second - and Ottawa made things interesting inside the final minute.

Spezza poked a puck past Ward for his 33rd of the season, but that’s where the comeback ended.

“We had some good chances, but we couldn’t get it done,” the centre said.

Alfredsson was more philosophical after the defeat, saying that despite the Senators coming up with a flat first period, “it was still a close game, we had our chances”.

Close won’t count for much in the playoffs, but with the last two games largely devoid of stakes - it’s pick-your-poison time and either match-up will be a tough one - they can get on with the business of preparing for the second season.

Reaching it is an achievement in itself, not that the Senators are particularly content at the idea of just being there.

“That,” said Anderson, “was playoff hockey tonight. We’d better get used to it.”

Follow on Twitter: @MrSeanGordon

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