Coach Boucher cancels skate, gives Senators a day off to prepare for Penguins

The Ottawa Senators will be rested, but they’d better be ready.

As the Senators prepare to enter the final stretch of 10 games before the playoffs begin, the players had Wednesday off to get prepared to host Sidney Crosby and the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday night at the Canadian Tire Centre.

Coming off a 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins Tuesday night at the TD Garden, coach Guy Boucher cancelled the club’s noon skate the Bell Sensplex Wednesday so he could make sure there’s enough gas in the tank for what will be a difficult road to trying to clinch a playoff spot.

Halting the club’s four-game losing streak with a 34-save performance from goaltender Craig Anderson was a huge boost of confidence for the Senators and gave them a little breathing room in the standings. They’re now six points ahead of Boston for second place in the Atlantic Division.

“It’s a relief that we got through that,” defenceman Marc Methot said on a conference call with Ottawa reporters Wednesday. “(Anderson) played fantastic for us. Without Andy in net, that win doesn’t happen, in my opinion.

“It gets us a step closer (to the playoffs). We clearly still want to win a few more games to solidify our position. Our goal is just to get our foot in the door. I don’t want to say then we can relax, but maybe then we can breathe a little bit easier.”

Playing with numbers is always tricky, but the belief is if the Senators can get to 96 points that will likely be the magic number to book a ticket to the NHL’s big dance in April. The Senators have 88 points and they’re only three back of the Montreal Canadiens for first place in the division.

But they’re not going to let themselves get caught up in that race. Boucher wants them to focus on booking a playoff spot, and then they’ll concern themselves with the other details.

“There’s a lot of hockey left and there’s a lot of hockey to be played,” said alternate captain Dion Phaneuf after the win in Boston. “We’ve got to continue to keep getting points and we’ve got to continue to build our game.

“We’ve been doing that all year. I really feel our group continues to build. We want to keep climbing and keep coming together, and doing the things that we have to do. You can see it in the way that we play, when we do the things that we want to and have to do to be successful, we’re a difficult team to play against.”

There was major concern about the Senators after back-to-back losses to the Habs, especially after a 4-1 loss at the Bell Centre Sunday night when the club had a lousy performance in a big game. The Senators responded the right way in Boston with help from Anderson.

“We’ve got a group that finds a way to bounce back,” said Phaneuf, who set up Kyle Turris for the third-period winner. “When we get challenged, we bounce back, and we’ve really found a way, when things aren’t going well or we seem to start to slide, to find a way to get back out of it.

“(Tuesday) was a game where we did that. We continued to push. We didn’t play the best game that we could, but we did (some of the) good things that were characteristic of our team and our system, and we found a way.”

The fact the Senators didn’t go on the ice was no surprise because they rarely do these days. The club has had just two practice days this month and most of the work is reserved for morning skates on game days.

Methot said the Senators have appreciated Boucher’s schedule.

“(Rest) is everything,” Methot said. “I feel it. You’re banged up at this time of year. I’m sure you’ve got some guys who are feeling great and super healthy, but none of us are 100 per cent. It’s pretty normal at this time of the season.

“I think that any opportunity you can get now, I think rest is weapon, and I think that applies when you’re on a playoff run or you’re trying to make the playoffs and there’s only X amount of games left. You need to be able to recharge the batteries, go back to work the next day and perform.

“Grinding a guy down to his bone isn’t going to do that.”

Forget the old saying that practice makes perfect because that doesn’t exist in the Senators’ world.

Twitter: @sungarrioch

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