OTTAWA (CP) - Ottawa can look back at Toronto in the Eastern Conference playoff race, but the Maple Leafs have an edge in one important trait for this time of year: Passion.
The Maple Leafs had it in abundance Saturday night and the Senators couldn't match it.
The Leafs overcame a two-goal deficit in the third period against Ottawa, eventually winning 4-3 on Darcy Tucker's overtime goal.
"The teams approached it with a different passion and the score was an indication (of that passion)," Senators coach Bryan Murray said Monday before his team left for New York, where it will play the Rangers on Tuesday night.
It's a statement that fans in Canada's capital likely won't want to hear since success in the playoffs depends on passion, intensity and killer-instinct.
Those three traits are chief among the things the Senators have been accused of lacking in the past when their promising regular seasons have repeatedly screeched to an abrupt halt in the post-season.
And with four defeats in their last five games - all after leading when heading into the final period and all against teams trailing the Senators in the standings - the most-recent collapse should be cause for alarm, even if Murray suggested it wasn't the most galling loss of the slide.
"The loss to Pittsburgh was worse," Murray shrugged, referring to last Tuesday when the Senators led 4-1 at home to the Penguins midway through the third period before Pittsburgh stormed back to tie the game and then won in a shootout.
With a mid-conference playoff berth all but locked up, the Senators haven't been able to match the intensity of teams that in most cases are still fighting for their playoff lives.
"It has a lot to do with the emotion of a given night," Murray said.
The Senators looked to have the problem solved when they went out and buried the Leafs 5-1 in the first game of a home-and-home series on Thursday in their strongest performance in some time.
But Toronto was able to respond two nights later while Ottawa couldn't.
With 13 games to go, the Senators are hoping they'll be able to buck the trend before it's too late.
"Each game is so important now. You've got to have that in mind," Senators defenceman Wade Redden said. "Because when you get into the playoffs, every little thing can turn a game or a series around."
Their task will be easier with the news Tuesday that defenceman Anton Volchenkov, who played just 90 seconds Saturday after suffering a badly broken nose in a collision, is expected to play.
The 25-year-old Russian, who's emerged as arguably Ottawa's most valuable blue-liner this season, underwent a procedure on Sunday to repair the damage and practised wearing a full cage Monday.
His absence would have deprived the Senators of one-half of their top defensive duo. Playing alongside Chris Phillips, Volchenkov averages more than 21 minutes of ice time per game, leads the league in blocked shots with 237 and is 13th in hits with 175.
"Anton was a big loss for us Saturday night," Murray said. "(The Leafs) got their forecheck on us and we didn't have the match-up quite the same way."