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Ottawa Senators head coach Dave Cameron, speaks with assistant coach Mark Reeds, left, on the ice during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Arizona Coyotes in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10, 2015. Senators assistant coach Mark Reeds has died. He was 55.The team announced he had cancer in March of 2014, and head coach Dave Cameron repeatedly asked for people to keep Reeds and his family in their thoughts.Ross D. Franklin/The Canadian Press

Let's win it all.

That was the message assistant coach Mark Reeds gave to the Ottawa Senators the last time he met with the team.

Reeds, who had been fighting cancer for more than a year, died Tuesday morning at age 55. The news came as a blow to the playoff-bound team already dealing with general manager Bryan Murray's cancer diagnosis.

The Senators open the post-season Wednesday night against the Montreal Canadiens, a game they weren't expected to be playing until a late-season surge up the standings secured them a playoff wild-card spot.

Emotions are running high in the dressing room.

"We're just trying to win," said Kyle Turris. "That's what he (Reeds) wanted. Just to give it our all, to keep winning, to get into the playoffs and just keep doing what we can to win and that's what we're going to try and do for him."

Reeds was remembered for his sense of humour, his passion for the game and his ability to communicate with players.

"I can personally say I'm a better hockey player because of him," said Senators captain Erik Karlsson. "I have a lot of respect for him. He was a great coach and an even better guy and a friend. He was always happy and he's helped shape this team into what it is."

Senators coach Dave Cameron fought back tears as he spoke of Reeds and what he brought to the team and his life as a close personal friend.

"When Mark got sick you had a heavy heart now it's broke," said Cameron. "Just a terrific father, dad, husband. Very close family. Big part of our success."

Cameron praised Reeds for his "bright hockey mind."

"He noticed things in a game that most people wouldn't if they watched the game 10 times, they wouldn't notice about stick placement, positioning, just details," he said. "He was a perfectionist. He loved the game. We had a lot of laughs in that back room watching video and pre-scouting.... A lot of times we just pulled the chairs back and it wasn't hockey, it was life."

Murray, who revealed in November that he has Stage 4 colon cancer, said Reeds had the opportunity to meet with the team about 10 days ago and told them to continue their winning ways.

The loss will be difficult for a young Senators team, but Murray is confident they will rally.

"Obviously I'm not sure how they will handle it, but I'm hoping that they handle it as Mark handled it," said Murray. "All he said his last visit was 'Let's win it all.' So we're going to use that hopefully in a positive manner."

The Senators say they will do their best to be prepared for Wednesday's Eastern Conference quarter-final game.

"It's not easy and this morning wasn't fun," said Marc Methot. "We've just got to rally behind that now and focus on the playoffs and do it for Reeder."

Reeds had been an assistant in Ottawa since 2011 and before that coached the Owen Sound Attack to an Ontario Hockey League title.

"As a player, a coach and a mentor for so many players — from teenagers in junior hockey to the best players in the world at the National Hockey League level — Mark Reeds was the embodiment of commitment to our game," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "Mark devoted 35 years to 10 different stops in six different leagues and the NHL shares the sorrow of all who were touched by his selflessness and dedication."

A Toronto native, Reeds was a fifth-round pick of St. Louis in 1979 and played 365 NHL games for the Blues and Hartford Whalers. He is survived by his wife, Mary, and their two children, Kyle and Kelsey.