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First-place Senators host desperate Maple Leafs

by Brian Hunter
MAPLE LEAFS (31-32-8) at SENATORS (37-25-10)


Last 10:
Toronto 2-7-1; Ottawa 5-3-2

Season Series: Sixth and final meeting of the season between these Northeast Division rivals. The Senators hold a 3-2 edge, and the road team has won three of the five matchups to this point. Phil Kessel of the Maple Leafs leads all scorers with 4 goals and 9 points, including the decisive goal in both Toronto victories.

Big Story:
First-place Senators. It seemed unfathomable a few months back when the Bruins were going weeks on end without losing a game, but their slump and a recent surge by the Sens culminating in Friday night's overtime win over the Canadiens has vaulted Ottawa into the division lead and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. But now the Bruins have two games in hand, so the Senators likely need to keep piling up the victories to avoid dropping back down the standings.

Team Scope:

Maple Leafs: Cue up the Journey, because while Toronto's road to the playoffs remains a treacherous one, the Maple Leafs haven't stopped believin' just yet. This is the fourth stop on a five-game road trip, after which the Leafs play five of six on home ice to close out the month. They snapped an 0-4-1 skid Thursday and won for the first time since Randy Carlyle's coaching debut with a 3-1 victory at Tampa Bay. John-Michael Liles, Joey Crabb and Jake Gardiner all scored, and James Reimer came within 26 seconds of recording a shutout, stopping 34 shots.

"Anytime you're losing it's never fun," Gardiner said. "We're just trying to stay positive. It really feels good to get a win here. It will boost us and hopefully we can keep going."

Senators: For the second game in a row Ottawa and Montreal went beyond regulation Friday, and the Senators got revenge in the back end of the home-and-home for a shootout loss on the road Wednesday by thrilling the Scotiabank Place crowd with a 2-1 OT win to edge past the Bruins into first. Defenseman Filip Kuba scored 3:07 into the extra period off a Daniel Alfredsson pass for the winner. The Senators entered the third trailing 1-0 and got even on Colin Greening's second goal in as many games. Ben Bishop needed to make just 13 saves to improve to 3-0-2 in net.

"It's obviously good; we'll enjoy it tonight," coach Paul MacLean said about taking the division lead. "The team has worked real hard. We've said all along, 'We don't know where we're going to be until we play 82 games.' Once we do that, we'll see where we are and go from there."

Who's Hot:
Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson added to his NHL lead among defensemen with his 52nd assist and 71st point Friday. He has 11 goals and 12 assists in 15 games since Feb. 11.

Injury Report: Toronto forwards Joffrey Lupul (shoulder), Nikolai Kulemin (finger) and Mike Brown (thigh) have been out of the lineup. ... Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson (lacerated finger) is on injured reserve.

Stat Pack:
Crabb's goal was his ninth of the season and ended a 20-game drought. Eight of his goals this season have come on the road. ... Karlsson, 21 years old, is the youngest defenseman to reach 70 points in a season since the Rangers' Brian Leetch during the 1988-89 season.

Puck Drop:
Greening, who also earned a slashing penalty and five-minute fighting major in the first period, summed up Ottawa's attitude about how it won the game.

"I felt like it was a gritty game and it takes 59 or, in our case, 63 minutes, just to break them," he said. "I felt like we played really well and I think we deserved to have a couple more goals. Overall, we just stuck to it and we knew that going into overtime were playing the better of the two teams."
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