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Senators try to extend Northeast lead on Maple Leafs

by Brian Hunter

MAPLE LEAFS (19-12-4) at SENATORS (19-9-6)


Last 10: Toronto 4-2-4; Ottawa 7-1-2

Season series: Fourth of five meetings between these Northeast Division rivals. Toronto currently has a 2-1 edge, with the home team winning each game.

Big story: Reports out of Ottawa on Friday indicated forward Jason Spezza, who required back surgery earlier in the season, isn't expected to return prior to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With the way the Senators are playing, though, they should manage to get there just fine without his services. They've won three in a row and have earned at least a point in nine of 10, but the Maple Leafs are only two points back in the battle for third place in the division.

Team Scope:

Maple Leafs: With barely more than a dozen games left in the regular season, Toronto holds a seven-point lead over the ninth-place New York Islanders. Depending on the results of Saturday's games, the Maple Leafs could open up a nine-point cushion in their bid to make the playoffs for the first time in nine years. Dion Phaneuf and Joffrey Lupul combined to rally them past the Hurricanes on Thursday, as Phaneuf netted the tying goal with 5:25 left and the red-hot Lupul connected with 3:10 remaining to put them ahead. Empty-netters by Jay McClement and Nikolai Kulemin sealed a 6-3 victory.

"It's always nice to score a goal with three or four minutes left," Lupul told the Toronto Sun, going on to praise the atmosphere at Air Canada Centre. "We were feeding off the energy of the building. I think they are getting the sense this is a really good hockey team."

Senators: Spezza's return may still be in doubt, but Ottawa received good news earlier this week in regards to defensemen Jared Cowen, who may return from hip surgery at some point in April, and goalie Craig Anderson, who hasn't played since Feb. 21 due to an ankle injury. Ben Bishop may not quite be putting up the numbers Anderson was before he got injured, but he's doing a reasonable impersonation. Bishop stopped all 24 shots by the Rangers on Thursday for his second career shutout, and Mika Zibanejad set up goals by Andre Benoit and Guillaume Latendresse in a 3-0 victory.

"We try to be consistent in what we do and knowing what we bring every night. If we do that, we'll be successful," Benoit said.

Who's hot: Lupul now has a five-game goal streak for the Maple Leafs, scoring seven times in that span. Phaneuf has goals in consecutive games and comes off a three-point effort Thursday. Tyler Bozak has a goal and four assists in the past two games. … Colin Greening has goals in consecutive games for the Senators. Zibanejad has five assists in his past four games. Bishop has won four straight starts.

Injury report: Toronto forward Clarke MacArthur (upper body) is day-to-day, while forward Leo Komarov (upper body) is on injured reserve. … Spezza, Cowen and Anderson are joined on injured reserve for Ottawa by defenseman Erik Karlsson (Achilles) and forward Milan Michalek (knee).

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