There is something about the Ottawa Senators that bring out the best in the Toronto Maple Leafs — no matter what the situation calls for.
There are the four times these teams met in a playoff series where Toronto bested Ottawa every single time.
On April 20th 2013, the Maple Leafs defeated the Senators 4-1 to clinch their first playoff berth in nine years. On that night, Leafs netminder James Reimer was busy making 49 saves.
Tonight, Jonathan Bernier was just as busy — 43 saves plus six saves in the shootout — to pick up his first win since March 11th.
“That was our motivation tonight and last night just to battle hard and to knock teams out of the playoffs,” said Bernier. “Tonight we did a good job, I don’t know if they’re out but that probably hurt them obviously for their chances.”
Ottawa picked up a point to sit two points out of a playoff spot with three games to go.
Bernier’s spectacular performance in goal marked the 12th 40-plus save performance as a Leaf, putting him into a tie with teammate James Reimer for the franchise record.
“It all goes back to motivation and wanting to play the game the right,” said Leafs interim coach Peter Horachek following tonight’s win. “We put a lot of pressure internally on us to play that way. We wanted to keep pushing and keep doing the right things and play the right way.
The game had everything.
Toronto set a new season high for shots in a period with 22. It was one of their best starts to a game in recent memory. But Ottawa pressed as they managed to keep Toronto to six total shots for the entire second period and half of the third.
“At this time of the year it’s a situation where we’re trying to play a bit of a spoiler,” said James van Riemsdyk, whose goal extended his personal streak to season high three games. “Hopefully it just gives you a good reason to get up for the games.”
After missing the last 10 games due to a lower-body injury, Peter Holland made an impact in his return, setting up van Riemsdyk’s goal and scoring the shootout winner.
“It’s a great rivalry between the two teams,” Holland said. “There’s some good Senators faithful in the building and to go that far in the shootout was a lot of fun.”
These are the types of games you wish the Leafs took on a rival every game.
There are two more game left in the Leafs season. The home finale will be against the Montreal Canadiens who could be in need of that game to decide their placing in the conference for home-ice advantage.
There were elements of the game for the Leafs that weren’t pretty. They have given up 167 shots on goal in their last four games, putting the goalies through the rigors. But Bernier and Reimer have come up huge, like they seem to always do against Ottawa.
The Senators haven’t won a game at ACC since Jan. 17, 2012.
The Battle of Ontario still belongs to Toronto.