OTTAWA - The Toronto Maple Leafs spent most of Tuesday night looking like a team headed for the playoffs, while the Ottawa Senators looked like one on the outside looking in.
If the Senators aren't careful, they could be before long.
"Obviously, we've got our work cut out for us here," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said after a 4-1 Maple Leafs' victory that sent Ottawa to its third straight defeat.
The Senators (37-28-5) entered the Olympic break with 14 wins in 16 games, but have gone 1-5-1 since, including a pair of losses to Toronto, the worst team in the Eastern Conference.
"I can't put a finger on it," Alfredsson said. "We've got to correct some stuff and figure it out."
With a sold-out crowd of 20,450 in attendance - the second-largest audience at Scotiabank Place this season - the Leafs (24-34-12) figured out Senators goaltender Brian Elliott, getting a goal from Phil Kessel in the first and two more from John Mitchell and Mikhail Grabovski 19 seconds apart early in the second.
Jonas Gustavsson did the rest with 30 saves and Rickard Wallin added an empty-netter.
Toronto, which was coming off a 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Sunday, won for the fourth time in five games and beat the Senators for the fourth straight outing to take the season series 4-2.
"Since we're not in the playoff picture, we really have not got a lot to lose," Mitchell said. "We're a different team (these days) and we didn't want to lose two games in a row the rest of the year, that's something we said."
Mitchell scored on a nice individual rush before Grabovski added another from the slot after some good work in the corner by Luca Caputi and Viktor Stalberg, an indication of the effort the Leafs put in on a night the slumping Senators were hoping to get their game going.
Grabovski's goal extended his point-scoring streak to five games.
Those two goals were the difference after Andy Sutton scored late in the second for Ottawa - his first since being acquired by the Senators on March 2 from the Islanders.
"You want to be relentless, right?" Mitchell said. "Just because you get up 2-0 doesn't mean you stop. We wanted to keep going and keep going."
Although an anticipated fifth fight of the season between Toronto heavyweight Colton Orr and Ottawa counterpart Matt Carkner never materialized, there was still plenty of action and emotion.
"It was just a good game," Orr said. "A good battle both ways and we came in and did what we had to do - we won."
Alfredsson was at the centre of the action in the third when he shoved Francois Beauchemin into the boards from behind, touching off a large scrum. Beauchemin was all right, but Alfredsson received a minor penalty for boarding.
"He had the puck and I was just trying to keep it in their end," Alfredsson said.
Beauchemin wasn't happy with the play.
"I got lucky I didn't get hurt," he said.
Elliott couldn't have been pleased, either. He finished with 26 saves and in what's become a familiar story, didn't get any offensive support.
The Senators have just nine goals in their last seven games, with four of those coming in a 4-1 triumph over the lowly Edmonton Oilers a week ago Tuesday, their only win since the Olympic break.
"You've got to give Toronto credit, they pushed us hard," said Senators coach Cory Clouston. "But to me, the biggest concern is in the offensive zone. We've just got to start burying our chances."
Gustavsson made it tough for them to do so.
Ottawa received a boost from the injury list when left-winger Nick Foligno returned after missing 13 games with a broken leg and defenceman Chris Campoli was back after sitting out eight games with a knee injury.
However, Mike Fisher, the team's second-leading goal-scorer with 21, who was doubtful for the game after leaving practice early Monday with an undisclosed injury, took the pre-game skate but didn't play.
The teams met 10 days earlier at Scotiabank Place, with Gustavsson and the Leafs leaving with a 2-1 shootout win.
He got a chance to play with the lead after Kessel opened the scoring on a 3-on-2 rush, taking a pass from Nikolai Kulemin and wiring a shot to the top corner for his 26th of the season.
With the assist, Kulemin extended his point-scoring streak to six games.
"Our team plays a little more confident when we get the first goal," Kessel said.
The Leafs then struck in quick succession early in the second, prompting Clouston to call a timeout.
After Sutton made it 3-1 after two, the Leafs came out in the third and outshot the Senators 17-8.
"When we scored a couple of goals, I could play relaxed," Gustavsson said. "It's a different atmosphere when we play against them and I like it. Those are the kind of games you want to play."
Notes: During the game, the Senators held their annual telethon to raise money for Roger's House, a care facility in the Ottawa area named in memory of former assistant coach Roger Neilson. A total of $606,183 was raised. ... With Campoli's return, the Senators re-assigned defenceman Brian Lee to Binghamton of the AHL. ... D Filip Kuba (lower body) is still sidelined by injury and Shean Donovan was a healthy scratch for Ottawa. ... For the Leafs, LW Fredrik Sjostrom missed his sixth straight game with a shoulder injury, while D Jeff Finger was scratched. ... The Senators embark on a three-game road trip beginning Thursday night at Atlanta. ... The Leafs are at home for the next three, starting Thursday night against New Jersey.