(SportsNetwork.com) - A week ago, the Ottawa Senators seemed poised to ride a late-season surge into the playoffs, but the club is a little more desperate entering Thursday's home test against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Senators went into last Thursday's game against the New York Rangers riding a seven-game win streak that put them one point up on the Boston Bruins for the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. However, Ottawa was routed 5-1 by the visiting Rangers to begin an ill-timed 0-2-1 stretch that ended with Tuesday's 2-1 shootout victory in Detroit.
Ottawa heads into tonight's action three points behind the Bruins for the East's final postseason berth with Boston set to play this evening in Detroit. The good news for the Sens is they do hold a game in hand over the Bruins with six tilts remaining in the regular season compared to five for Boston.
The Sens earned a much-needed victory in the Motor City on Tuesday when Mark Stone scored the deciding goal during the fourth round of the shootout. Clarke MacArthur also scored late in regulation to force overtime and give Ottawa a chance to earn the two points.
The victory helped Ottawa keep pace with the Bruins, who also earned a win Tuesday against Florida.
"It's the biggest win of the year," Stone said. "Every game is the most important from here on out."
Andrew Hammond made 16 saves for the Senators, who outshot the Red Wings 34-17 in the contest but went 0-for-5 on the power play.
Hammond, who didn't make his first NHL start until Feb. 18, improved to 15-1-1 on the season. On Wednesday, the 27-year-old netminder was nominated for the Bill Masterton Trophy, which is awarded annually for the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
Ottawa is expected to go with Hammond in net again tonight. He has yet to face Tampa in his brief NHL career.
The Lightning, meanwhile, have already clinched a playoff berth and still have a chance to win the Atlantic Division title. Montreal currently is in first with 102 points, one more than Tampa, and the Canadiens own a game in hand over the Bolts, who have four games left in the regular season.
Tampa helped its division title chances with Monday's 5-3 win in Montreal, completing a five-game sweep of the regular-season series. However, the Lightning wasted an opportunity to take over the first spot on Tuesday when it lost in regulation at Toronto.
The Lightning fell 3-1 to the lowly Maple Leafs despite outshooting Toronto by a 41-28 margin. Montreal was idle on Tuesday, but is back in action this evening against visiting Washington.
Andrei Vasilevskiy had a shaky start in net, as Toronto jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period. Vasilevskiy ended with 25 saves.
"It doesn't matter if you're coming into a team that has struggled the second half of the season," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "We tried to win the hockey game and just didn't have it tonight."
Nazem Kadri gave Toronto a 1-0 lead with a power-play tally less than nine minutes into the first and David Booth extended the cushion to two goals at the 12:03 mark when he beat Vasilevskiy between the pads from the right boards.
Ryan Callahan scored Tampa's only goal late in the first period when he cashed in on a power play for his 23rd marker of the season. The setback was the Lightning's third loss in four games.
Tampa played Tuesday without defenseman Victor Hedman, who sat out with a lower-body injury suffered in Monday's win. He is considered day-to-day. Defensemen Jason Garrison and Andrej Sustr also suffered injuries recently and both players could be sidelined for weeks.
Forward Tyler Johnson also is expected to miss a third straight game this evening with an upper-body injury.
Ben Bishop is expected to be back in net tonight. Tampa's No. 1 netminder is a former Senator and owns a 6-0-2 career mark and 2.30 goals against average against his old club.
Tampa has won two straight against Ottawa since losing the opener of the 2014-15 season series at home on Oct. 11. The Bolts have won two straight on the road in this matchup.
The Lightning are 17-16-6 as the guest this season and will complete a five- game road trip when they visit Florida on Saturday.
Ottawa is beginning a two-game homestand tonight and welcomes Washington on Saturday. The Sens have dropped two straight at Canadian Tire Centre, where they own a 20-13-5 mark on the season.