April 3, 2004
GAME: Toronto Maple Leafs (44-24-10-3) at Ottawa Senators (43-22-10-6).
TIME: Saturday, 7 p.m. EST.
The Northeast Division title is up for grabs, literally.
With three teams separated by just one point, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators will meet at the Corel Centre in the season finale for both teams.
The winner of this game will then put all the pressure on the Boston Bruins. Ottawa and Boston are currently tied atop the division with 102 points, with Toronto one back.
But while the Maple Leafs and Senators conclude their regular season Saturday, the Bruins finish up with this weekend's home-and-home set against the New Jersey Devils.
A lot is at stake here. The top four seeds in each conference receive home-ice advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs. However, there is no guarantee the runner-up in the Northeast will be the fourth seed because the Atlantic Division's Devils and Philadelphia Flyers have 98 and 100 points, respectively.
Needless to say, Saturday's game in Ottawa is huge.
"We have to keep playing smart and not try to do too much," Senators winger Peter Bondra said. "Just play our game and hopefully everything will take care of itself."
The Senators are unbeaten in five (4-0-1), including a 3-1 win in Philadelphia on Friday. If Ottawa and Boston finish tied for the top spot, the Senators will win the division on the first tiebreaker, more victories.
Zdeno Chara had a goal and an assist and goaltender Martin Prusek rebounded from a poor effort against Florida on Wednesday to make 39 saves. Prusek could start Saturday as No. 1 starter Patrick Lalime is still out with a sprained left knee sustained during a 2-2 tie with Toronto on Tuesday.
The Maple Leafs did their part to set up this weekend's drama by beating Buffalo 2-0 on Friday.
Ed Belfour, who will turn 39 later this month, stopped 17 shots for the 74th shutout of his career as the Maple Leafs, 6-2-1 in their last nine games, set a franchise record for points in a season.
"Who said age is a handicap? The guy's unbelievable," Maple Leafs forward Alexander Mogilny said of Belfour. "It comes down to preparation and dedication to the game. I've never seen anybody in his position work as hard as he does."
Belfour has 434 career victories, one shy of Jacques Plante for third place on the NHL's all-time list.
STANDINGS: Maple Leafs - 101 points, 3rd place, 1 PB, Northeast Division. Senators - 102 points, 1st place (tied), Northeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Maple Leafs - Mats Sundin, 30 goals, 44 assists and 74 points; Tie Domi, 208 PIM. Senators - Marian Hossa, 36 goals and 82 points; Daniel Alfredsson, 48 assists; Chris Neil, 178 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through April 1): Maple Leafs - Power play: 20.1 percent (73 for 363), 5th in NHL. Penalty killing: 83.2 percent (316 for 380), 21st. Senators - Power play: 21.6 percent (79 for 366), 1st. Penalty killing: 83.7 percent (282 for 337), 20th.
GOALTENDERS: Maple Leafs - Belfour (33-19-6, 9 SO, 2.16 GAA); Trevor Kidd (6-5-2, 1, 3.26). Senators - Lalime (25-23-7, 5, 2.29); Prusek (16-5-3, 3, 2.04).
SEASON SERIES: Maple Leafs, 3-1-1.
LAST MEETING: March 27; Tie, 2-2, OT. At Toronto, Bryan McCabe scored the tying goal for Toronto midway through the third period.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Maple Leafs - 22-10-7-1 on the road; Senators - 23-7-5-5 at home.-- Associated Press