OTTAWA (CBSMiami/AP) – The Florida Panthers push for a playoff spot will face a huge test on Sunday.
While the Ottawa Senators hope to bounce back in their quest for a playoff berth, the Panthers are running out of chances in their bid to qualify for only the third time in 17 seasons.
With Andrew Hammond’s status again uncertain, the Senators will try to avoid their first three-game skid in almost two months with their 16th win in 20 games Sunday night against the visiting Panthers.
Ottawa appeared to be a longshot to reach the postseason in mid-February when it trailed Boston by 10 points in the Eastern Conference standings. The Senators, though, have reversed their fortunes and put together a 15-2-2 stretch while outscoring opponents 59-39.
Hammond has been a huge contributor over that span, going 14-1-1 with a 1.83 goals-against average while getting an opportunity due to injuries to Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner. Anderson got the nod Saturday for the first time since March 10 because of a right hand injury, allowing four goals on 31 shots in a 4-3 overtime loss at Toronto.
Following Boston’s 4-2 win over the New York Rangers on Saturday, the Senators (37-25-12) fell one point behind the Bruins in the battle for the second wild-card position but have played one fewer game.
Ottawa now hopes to avoid its longest skid since dropping three in a row from Feb. 3-7, though Hammond could remain sidelined after he limped off the ice following Friday’s workouts. ‘The Hamburglar’ is now likely to be a game-time decision.
“(He’s) banged up a bit and wear and tear so we kept him off the ice,” coach Dave Cameron told the team’s official website.
Hammond played well in his lone career start versus Florida, giving up only Aleksander Barkov first-period goal before finishing with 21 saves in a 4-1 home win Feb. 21.
Anderson was stellar with 30 saves in Ottawa’s 1-0 road win over the Panthers on Oct. 13 and he finished with 43 stops in a 3-2 loss at Florida on Nov. 28. He’s gone 10-3-0 with a 1.77 GAA in his last 13 starts in this series.
“We’ll see how it is (Sunday) and go from there, but there are no issues,” said Anderson of potential back-to-back starts.
The Panthers (34-26-15) had won three of four to creep closer to Boston and Ottawa, but they’re four points behind the Bruins with seven games remaining following a 3-2 overtime loss at Montreal on Saturday.
“You know the other teams are winning,” forward Jonathan Huberdeau told the team’s official website. “We’ve just got to come out (Sunday) and forget about this one.”
Barkov had a pair of goals for Florida, which has only reached the postseason twice since the 1997-98 season. Brandon Pirri failed to score a goal Saturday after tallying seven in the previous seven games.
Roberto Luongo, who allowed three goals on 25 shots against the Canadiens, gave up four goals last month in Ottawa while suffering his second straight defeat since winning 10 consecutive starts against the Senators.
This is a very favorable matchup for Senators forward Clarke MacArthur, who has five goals and six assists in his last nine matchups dating to his time with Toronto. He had an assist Saturday in his return after missing 18 games with a concussion.
Florida is 1-7-1 in its last nine visits to Ottawa.
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