If 2001 taught Ontario hockey fans anything, it’s to disregard where the Maple Leafs and the Senators may be in relation to each other in the standings.
Because, with the annoyance of a mosquito incessantly buzzing about the ear, Toronto has somehow always found a way to stifle Ottawa’s season.
A rare Sunday tilt was no exception as the Leafs outlasted their provincial rivals in a seven-round shootout. The end-to-end affair created excitement about the Air Canada Centre that hadn’t been seen since the calendar year 2014 when the Leafs were, well – good.
Meanwhile the Senators had to ponder about what could have been, for the second straight weekend. Eight days ago, Eric Brewer had the overtime winner to steal the extra point for Toronto in a game in which his team never held the lead.
In their past two head-to-head meetings, Ottawa has left 40 Bay Street with just two of a possible four points. At 93 points, they currently sit two points back of both Pittsburgh and Detroit who currently hold the two available Wild Card playoff spots. All three teams have three games remaining.
So if both the Penguins and Red Wings settled for .500 hockey the rest of the way, the Senators would have to run the table to pass both teams. The Senators would lose a tiebreaker with either squad, based on regulation and overtime wins.
And if the Senators miss the post-season by one or two points, the margin of error will always come back to their nemesis – Toronto.
Which brings us back to the 2001 playoffs in which the Senators finished 19 points ahead of the Leafs in the standings, and the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. Back then, this writer predicted a series sweep, and was half right. He just got the team wrong.
Toronto pulled off a four-game shocker. It might not have been a surprise that Mats Sundin was an overtime hero in one of the games. But Cory Cross?
From Ricard Persson in 2002 taking a boarding penalty that cost his team the series, to Patrick Lalime giving up two weak goals to Joe Nieuwendyk in 2004, the Senators have perennially had the Toronto flu.
They almost shook it off on Sunday night. Almost.
Jofrrey Lupul opened the scoring 3:19 into the game, after taking a pass from Eric Brewer. It was Lupul’s first goal in 28 games, dating back to December 29 versus Tampa. Ottawa tied the score when Karlsson jumped on a rebound for a power-play marker, resulting in cheers from the strong Ottawa contingent in attendance.
The Leafs retook the lead in the second period after Eric Brewer drove to the net and created an open lane for Peter Holland to feed the puck to a trailing James van Riemsdyk. JVR netted his team-leading 27th goal of the year.
But after a questionable penalty was assessed to Richard Panik late in the second period, the ensuing power play carried into the third frame, where Mark Stone equalled the score.
The teams forced overtime as both netminders were excellent. Ottawa’s Andrew Hammond took what looked like a sure goal away from Phil Kessel (what, no hamburglar-thief joke, here?) Meanwhile Jonathan Bernier was under siege in the Toronto net, making 41 saves in regulation, plus two more in the scoreless overtime.
A shootout was required to break the deadlock, with Lupul, and Mika Zibanejad, scoring for their respective teams before sudden death was required. In round seven, the game was won by Holland, who had returned to the lineup after missing ten games with a lower-body injury.
van Riemsdyk enjoyed being a thorn in the Senators’ side. “It’s always fun. It’s a rivalry game,” he said. “Like we talked about before, they’re playing for a playoff spot, so we’re trying to make it hard on them and play a little bit of a spoiler.”
Like Sundin, and Cross, and Nieuwendyk before them, this year’s Leafs players are influencing the Senators’ misfortunes. They may not be eliminating them in the playoffs, but while the Toronto team is down and out, they appear to be dragging Ottawa down with them.
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