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Ottawa Senators left wing Milan Michalek battles for the puck along the boards with Boston Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg during second period NHL action in Ottawa, On Thursday April 5, 2012. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Ottawa Senators left wing Milan Michalek battles for the puck along the boards with Boston Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg during second period NHL action in Ottawa, On Thursday April 5, 2012. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Senators come up short in likely playoff preview Add to ...

The look was of the sort that melts through plastic and frightens small animals.

Then there was the pregnant pause, all seven seconds of it.

But in the end, Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean thought better of answering a reporter’s question about what he had said to the officials in the final minute of a 3-1 loss to Boston that had earned him an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and swift ejection.

“I can’t afford it,” he said.

It’s safe to assume that salty language was at issue - MacLean disagreed with a late icing call with his squad pressing for a goal, and said so in no uncertain terms.

“I thought it was an attainable pass, so the icing should have been waved off . . . I thought it was similar to a lot of the ones that were waved off. But I’ve never understood the rule,” he said with a half-smile.

Oddly for two teams who are likely to face each other in the first round of the playoffs in a week’s time, MacLean’s was perhaps the only genuine outburst of anger and passion.

Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson observed that “the intensity from either team today wasn’t close to being a playoff kind of intensity.”

Added Boston’s Milan Lucic, who scored the insurance goal with under five minutes to play, “to be honest it almost seemed like no one wanted to get hurt.

“But we’ve had our battles against these guys, we don’t back down from them and they don’t back down from us . . . it’s a possibility that we’re going to get them in the first round regardless of this game, I think it will definitely become a nasty series.”

Sure, the Bruins can take away the fact that they won yet again at ScotiaBank Place - their eighth win in their last 11 games - and have carried the season series five games to one.

But Ottawa can point to the fact they badly out-shot the second-seeded Bruins 45-27, out-chanced and out-hit their opponents, and would have smoked them if any number of chances hadn’t gone begging.

Rookie goaltender Anton Khudobin was stellar in victory - regular netminder Tim Thomas had the night off, along with defenceman Zdeno Chara and centre Patrice Bergeron - but the Senators had ample chances to tie the game and on a different night, and if the opportunities had fallen to players other than the offensively-challenged third and fourth line, may well have.

Erik Karlsson had a second-period assist on Jason Spezza’s 34th of the season (which matches a career high) to take his year’s total to 79 points, tops among defencemen.

But in the latter stages of a third period where his team trailed 2-1 (Boston’s Benoit Pouliot had opened the scoring in the first, Greg Zanon had doubled the lead by sneaking a shot through Ben Bishop early in the second), Karlsson missed a gaping net after a sweet pass from centre Zack Smith.

“Hopefully the next time it won’t happen the same way,” shrugged Karlsson, who put in a swashbuckling shift. “We feel pretty good in here . . . this won’t affect our confidence or anything like that.”

Alfredsson talked about an “emotional let-down” in Tuesday’s loss to Carolina and in the set-back against Boston.

“I think the air just went out of us a bit here after we clinched. Now it’s just work on some things, areas we need to be better. We would like to win on Saturday, but we have to prepare for the playoffs, it’s a last chance to rehearse before the big dance,” he said. “Overall tonight we can’t be too displeased.”

All that remains to be seen is whether the Sens face the Bruins next week, or draw the conference champion New York Rangers.

There is a reasonable case to be made that New York is a better match-up for the Senators than Boston, but the final result is only partly within Ottawa’s control.

Because the Washington Capitals defeated the Florida Panthers 4-2 on Thursday, it’s possible they could still catch Florida for the division lead if they beat the Rangers on Saturday and Florida loses in regulation to the resurgent Carolina Hurricanes (who beat Montreal in a shootout on Thursday).

Ottawa would assure itself of seventh by gaining at least an overtime point in their season finale in New Jersey against the Devils on Saturday.

“We have one more game to play, and we’ll see after that. One thing that’s for sure is we’re in the playoffs . . . it’s between two teams so I think we’ll be fine,” MacLean said.

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