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Snapshots: Ottawa Senators face Pittsburgh Penguins, the latest in a long line of ‘must wins’

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It’s now or never for Ottawa senators.

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It’s been nearly six years since a trip to Steeltown and a game against Captain Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins has equaled Ottawa’s visit to PPG Paints Arena on Monday night.

The last time the Senators played such a crucial game against the Penguins was on May 25, 2017 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals when Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz scored the winner in double overtime to end Ottawa’s Cinderalla run through the To finish the playoffs with a 3-2. 2 loss.

If the Senators are looking to return to the NHL’s big dance this spring, they face the last in a long line of must-wins against the Penguins.

At the start of Sunday’s action, the Senators were seven points behind the Penguins for the last wildcard spot in the East and nine behind the New York Islanders with two games in hand. A win against the Penguins is paramount, and even then, the Senators’ chances of making the playoffs are slim.

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Website Moneypuck.com gave the Senators less than a percent chance of making the playoffs Sunday morning. The Penguins are just one hurdle, the Senators are six points behind the Florida Panthers, while the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabers are also ahead of Ottawa.

With 13 games remaining, the Senators can’t afford to give up many more points, and if they fall 10 points behind the Penguins in a loss on Monday, the task will be all but impossible. The road trip continues Tuesday against the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden.

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Senators don’t want to go down without a fight and understand the odds are slim.

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“We’re going to keep saying (the season is on the line) as long as we’re trucking and I’m sure we’ll have a lot of those,” said veteran defender Travis Hamonic after the club’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Canadian Tire Center on Saturday.

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You can’t fault the Senators’ efforts in this difficult stretch. They’ve gone head-to-head with Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche, and the Leafs’ top-flight offense. Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are a tough test.

“Our schedule cannot be sugarcoated,” Hamonic said. “But to get in you have to play good hockey and you might as well try to run away against some of the best teams in the league.”

The last time the Senators faced the Penguins on the street, they fell 4-1 on Jan. 20.

“We expect a good game from our group. Even the last time we were in (Pittsburgh), we really didn’t live up to our standards,” Hamonic said. “I think we need to go in there and put on a much better game as a group and we’ll be ready.

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“We’re going to come (to Pittsburgh) and refocus and get all the positives out of this. It’s a huge game, we know that and we will be ready.”

LONG NIGHT

Saturday’s shootout against the Leafs looked like it would never end as Alex Kerfoot scored the winner against goaltender Mads Sogaard in the ninth round.

Coach DJ Smith ran out of options, but noted that if it had gone another round, he probably would have gone to rookie center Ridly Greig.

“They go over the (shooting) percentages of players who have scored and players who have previously,” Smith said. “There weren’t many guys left on the bench who had ever scored in a penalty shootout. After Kerfoot (shot) for them, who’s left?

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“Ridly was a guy we had in mind and he probably would have gone next.”

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This wasn’t the longest shootout in Senators’ franchise history. The club lost 4-3 to the St. Louis Blues on 1 March 2016 in an 11-round skill contest when Patrik Berglund scored the winning goal. This remained goalless in the first 10 rounds.

“Everyone is in the league for a reason and everyone can take part in penalties,” said center Tim Stutzle, who scored his 35th goal of the season on Saturday. “We have a lot of skilled people here, especially in the backend, and they are great players.”

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THE LAST WORDS

Goaltender Matt Murray faced the Senators for the first time since leaving the Leafs last summer and made a strong showing with 48 stops.

“They were buzzing the whole game,” Murray said. “They pushed incredibly hard and threw a lot into the net. And they came through the third period hard. So credit where credit is due. They played a great third third and tied it up and after that it was just a matter of going into overtime. And once there is a shootout, anything can happen.”

The Leafs were happy to see Murray succeed in one of his old favorites.

“Absolutely,” said All-Star Auston Matthews. “First time back (in Ottawa) you’re very proud and we want to do well for him and tonight it was the complete opposite. He did really well for us and kept us in the game as they picked up speed and was just solid all around for us.”

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Twitter.com/sungarrioch

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