With five games left, Ottawa Senators don’t want to come up short on the give-a-crap factor

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Five games to go and it’ll all be over for the Ottawa Senators.

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Five games and the Senators players can go off and do whatever hockey players do when their season is over and “vacation time” begins.

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For some within the team’s fan base, the end of the Senators’ regular season can’t come soon enough.

For the players, these final few games are an opportunity to build off the glimpes of potential we’ve seen in the past month or so. Of course, with that comes too much mediocrity – look no further than last week’s 6-0 ass-kicking of a loss to the Florida Panthers for evidence.

When you come to the conclusion that the players have packed it in and are thinking more about off-season plans, they figure out a way to elevate their game – the final two periods of a 4-3 loss to New Jersey Saturday and a 3-2 overtime win in Washington Sunday. They upped their give-a-crap factor, led by captain Brady Tkachuk, who delivered a league-record 16 hits Saturday. The fans at Canadian Tire Centre were chanting the captain’s name.

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Then, as a team, the Senators delivered 39 hits (the Capitals had just 24), led by Tkachuk’s six, Sunday.

They haven’t quit.

“Everybody saw what Brady did,” Mark Kastelic told TSN 1200’s Gord Wilson Sunday. “It’s easy to (get more physical) after you see (an effort) like that from our captain. When we do that, it allows other parts of our game to shine through.”

“Brady brought some energy to us, that’s what he does,” defenceman Thomas Chabot said.

And, this from defenceman Jake Sanderson, who scored Sunday’s game-winner in the first minute of overtime with a seeing-eye shot from the point: “(Tkachuk is) the best power forward in the NHL. When he does that and puts the team on his back and (gives us a chance) to claw back … it’s impressive.”

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Added Senators coach Jacques Martin: “You want to have the physicality. Brady was outstanding as far as finishing checks. He was in the highlight tape. At this time of the year, you need physical play, you need to block shots. Teams that are in the playoffs do it; we have to do the same thing.”

One thing Martin has been trying to get his players to buy into is shooting the puck more often. Just shoot.

“You can’t score if you don’t shoot,” Martin re-iterated.

It was a noticeable shift in tempo both Saturday and Sunday when Ottawa took more shots toward the net. Sunday, the Senators had 11 shots the first two periods combined, then had 11 in the third period. Saturday, the Senators had just 13 the first two periods, then pumped up the volume with 15 shots in a dominant third period.

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After Saturday’s game, Tkachuk said: “I thought the third period was probably our best period all year. We did the little things right, put the puck behind them and got physical.”

Long before their next season begins, the Senators need to figure out a lot of things.

As Martin noted: “You can’t have a bad month; if you have a bad month, you can knock yourself out of the playoffs.”

Next, after an off day Monday, is a game in Florida Tuesday, five days after the Panthers beat up on the Senators so bad, the home team’s fans were booing.

“We want to finish the season strong,” Sanderson said. “We’re not satisfied with what we’ve done this year. We’re trying to keep things rolling. We’re getting every team’s best this last stretch, so we have to stick to it.”

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PENGUINS CHASING PLAYOFFS: What seemed very unlikely not long ago, is a reality: The Pittsburgh Penguins are making a hard charge to be a playoff team. Going into a game Monday in Toronto, the Penguins were tied with Philadelphia and Washington, one point behind Detroit for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Penguins were 10 point behind March 4. As recently as March 27, with 11 games left, they were nine points out.

The largest deficit an NHL team has overcome in the final 11 games of their season is seven points, achieved by the 1977-78 Colorado Rockies (they caught Vancouver) and 1958-59 Toronto Maple Leafs (who were seven points behind with five games to go and caught the New York Rangers). Under the wild-card format (since 2013-14), two teams have overcome a deficit of five or more points within their final 11 games to qualify: The 2018-19 Colorado Avalanche (six points in its final 11 games) and  2013-14 Dallas Stars (five points in their final 10 games).

ICE CHIPS: Following Sunday’s game, TSN’s Gord Miller pointed out to Sanderson his dad Geoff, who played 17 years in the NHL (from 1990-2008, with Hartford, Carolina, Vancouver, Buffalo, Columbus, Phoenix, Philadelphia and Edmonton)), had six career overtime goals. Jake scored his first one Sunday … The Senators won 62 per cent of the faceoffs Sunday.

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