Maple Leafs edge Sens in shootout
As bad as they’ve been this year, the Maple Leafs still have a little magic when it comes to making the Ottawa Senators playoff ambitions difficult.
With Sunday’s 3-2 shootout win, framed by 49 Jonathan Bernier saves in all and Peter Holland’s round-seven goal, the Leafs have back-to-back extra-period wins over the Senators the past two weeks to stall their late post-season drive.
“That was our motivation last night (a shootout loss in Boston) and tonight, knock teams out of the playoffs,” Bernier said. “I don’t know if (the Sens) are out, but that hurt their chances. The crowd got us in the game tonight, there were a lot of Sens’ fans.”
The long-eliminated Leafs have a record of 3-1-1 in their past five games and have likely locked themselves into the fourth-overall draft pick. It would have to win its last two against Columbus and Montreal and have Carolina drop all three in regulation to pass the Hurricanes.
If Ottawa’s admirable run does fall short by a point or two, it will remember Eric Brewer’s overtime goal that capped a third-period rally March 28 and Sunday’s shootout winner by Peter Holland.
This was Ottawa’s game in hand on three Eastern teams, which it now trails by two points. Wildcard entries Pittsburgh and Detroit, who have each slumped in recent days, are immediately ahead for them, with Boston also at 95 points, but seeded in the Atlantic Division’s top three for now. The Sens have a must-win head-to-head with the Penguins at home on Tuesday, one of three games to go.
It was the fourth straight game overall the Sens have gone to an extra period, and though they and the Leafs were travel weary, both found the energy to combine for 83 shots on goal prior to the shootout.
Interim coach Peter Horachek earned his salary, keeping his players monitoring Ottawa’s mobile defence that created constant four-man rushes, fending off five Ottawa power plays and going deep in the bench as the shootout stretched on.
“Those are the games you want to be in,” said Horachek, who urged his team to treat their last seven matches as a real playoff series and now ‘lead’ it 3-2. “Games are tight and every goal matters. We had more energy in the first (22 shots), then in the second period Ottawa put a push on. Then the shootout went long.”
That looked like it would be over quick when Mika Zibanejad scored with ease on Ottawa’s first chance. Bernier has a losing record in shootouts and been struggling in general of late compared to James Reimer. But he made the next six saves, while Joffrey Lupul went high on Andrew Hammond and Holland ended it with a head of steam that startled the Hamburglar on the winner. Holland had watched Tyler Bozak, Lupul, Joakim Lindstrom, James van Riemsdyk, Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri try to beat Hammond ahead of him.
“If you come in with speed, he tended to back up more than he wanted to,” said Holland, in his first game back from a 10-game injury absence and earning his first NHL shootout goal.
Holland had nearly 17 minutes of ice, with a nice assist on van Riemsdyk’s go-ahead strike during 4-on-4 in the second period. His third goal in as many games likely ends Kessel’s five-year reign as the Leafs’ goal leader, now with 24 to van Riemsdyk’s 27. In this latest skid of his worst NHL season, Kessel has now gone 10 games without a goal and has just seven since mid-December.
It was Dec. 23rd when the Leafs had their 20th win and Dec. 29 when Lupul had last scored. The road to Sunday’s 30th victory took more than three months, while Lupul has been injured, ineffective and distracted by off-ice controversy. But Lupul’s long wait finally came to an end at 3:10 of the opening period, the first of two assists by Eric Brewer that marked the latter’s strong all around game.
Bernier, needing to end his personal losing slump since March 11, survived a partial break by Erik Condra and a 2-0 short-handed rush. Erik Karlsson scored Ottawa’s first goal, extending his point streak to six games against the Leafs, four goals and four assists.
David Booth, playing in his 500th NHL game, and defenceman Morgan Rielly, swooping in several times in search of his 30th point of the year, also came close for the Leafs. Too bad for them the Battle of Ontario can’t go any longer this season.