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MacGregor: Senators playoff push running out of steam after loss to Rangers

As hockey anniversaries go, it was barely noted.

But it was on another March 18, 122 years ago, that Lord Kilcoursie, aide to Lord Stanley, stood up at a banquet at the Russell House Hotel and announced – as duly covered by this ancient sportswriter – that the governor-general would be donating a trophy to the most outstanding hockey team in the Dominion.

That first Stanley Cup wasn't presented until 1893, but if it had been ready that night it might well have gone to the Ottawa Hockey Club of 1892, as the team sported an impressive 9-1 record that season.

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That's roughly the finish the modern Ottawa Senators will require if they hope to close the gap between them and the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

And following Tuesday's discouraging 8-4 loss to the New York Rangers – with only 14 games remaining – the chances of playing even a first round in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs are increasingly remote.

The Rangers just happened to hold down the final spot in the East playoff rankings, now nine points ahead of the Sens and with three teams (Washington Capitals, Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils) bunched up between them like a mathematical neutral-zone trap.

"We know it's a long-shot," Senators leading scorer, Erik Karlsson said after the morning skate Tuesday.

"I think everybody knows that."

"Until they tell us we're mathematically out," captain Jason Spezza said, "we're going to fight to the end."

There was little fight, however, in Spezza's team this night. The Senators were up 2-1 after the opening period, on goals by rookie Mike Hoffman and – on the power play – sophomore Mika Zibanejad. But that was it for hope.

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Hoffman's glory on his point-shot marker at 6 minutes 57 seconds was short-lived. Barely a minute later, he coughed up the puck, allowing Rangers forward Rick Nash to scoot down the ice and score a short-handed goal on Robin Lehner, making it 1-1.

Lehner, supposedly Ottawa's 22-year-old goalie of the future, had another rough outing as the game went on.

At the end of an early second-period power play, the Rangers tied the game when Derek Brassard beat Lehner from in close.

Ottawa then appeared to crumble under a series of errors. Veteran defenceman Chris Phillips sent and ill-advised pass to Spezza in front of Lehner, and Spezza lost the puck in his feet, allowing Benoit Pouliot to snap a shot home to put the Rangers ahead 3-2.

Three minutes later, New York defenceman John Moore took a shot from just inside the Ottawa blueline that Lehner whiffed on. One more minute, and Ryan McDonagh put the Rangers up 5-2 on a deflection.

With Ottawa's No. 1 goaltender, Craig Anderson, not yet returned from injury, head coach Paul MacLean elected to go with minor-league call-up Nathan Lawson to start the third period.

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Milan Michalek appeared to give the Senators some slight life when he intercepted a puck and fired a hard wrist shot past the blocker of New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. But shortly after, Derek Stepan added to New York's total when the puck went in off his stick and video review allowed the goal to stand.

Brassard, with his second of the night, made it 7-3 when he completed a goalmouth passing play in which Martin St. Louis was credited with an assist.

"All the bounces went our way," Nash said.

For St. Louis, last year's Art Ross Trophy winner as the NHL's leading scorer, it was only the third point (all assists) since coming to the Rangers from Tampa Bay Lightning at the trading deadline.

St. Louis had long been a fan favourite for his determined and increasingly successful play, but that reputation took a bit of a beating over the past couple of months.

The then-captain of the Lightning felt he had been snubbed by the 2014 Team Canada selection committee, which was headed up by Tampa general manager Steve Yzerman. St. Louis was later named to the team to replace injured teammate Steven Stamkos, but had been little used at the Sochi Olympics.

St. Louis had demanded a trade to only New York – and Yzerman granted it, somehow managing to pry Ryan Callahan and two prize draft picks out of the Rangers in exchange.

Three assists in eight games can hardly be what the Rangers expected from the deal.

This night, however, nothing more was needed.

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About the Author

Roy MacGregor was born in the small village of Whitney, Ont., in 1948. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2002, he worked for the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, Maclean's magazine (three separate times), the Toronto Star and The Canadian Magazine. More


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