No matter the teams' situations, any game between the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs will get the blood pumping for the two fan-bases. Add in that former Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf was making his return to Toronto after a blockbuster deal, and you had the recipe for a little bit more excitement than one might normally expect for a game between two non-playoff teams played in early March.
This one got off to a fast start with early chances traded off the rush. Of concern for the Sens was the pressure the Leafs' forwards were able to exert with their speed; through most of the first period, it felt like Ottawa's skaters were constantly pressured into making plays a second sooner than they'd have liked. The end result was a lot of ringing the puck around the boards and chipping 'n' chasing.
In the midst of all this though, the Sens got on the board first. Bobby Ryan jumped all over a fumbled puck from Matt Hunwick to snap a wrister past Bernier just over six minutes into the game:
The sight of the Senators scoring the first goal was a welcome, if unfamiliar, one for Sens fans: this was only the 11th time in the last 41 games that they had opened the scoring. The lead, however, was short-lived as William Nylander beat Andrew Hammond off a scrambled draw in the Ottawa end. If you want to read more about how Nylander is the second coming, there are lots of Leafs-centric blogs available to you. I will say that the kid looks good and let's just leave it at that.
The second half of the first period went much like the first: Toronto was just a bit quicker to the puck and got a few more grade A chances than the Sens. Chris Wideman took a selfish penalty to end the frame but the Sens were able to kill off the man advantage. Shots were 14-9 in favour of the Leafs and attempts were 28-15 at 5v5.
The second period started well for the Sens as they were able to generate sustained pressure in the Leafs' end for consecutive shifts. This edition of the Leafs is fast, and formidable, if given time and space through the neutral zone but their back line is thin and can be exploited off the cycle. The most positive moments in this game for the Sens came when they were able to retrieve the puck and force the Leafs to defend movement.
The good work of the first half of the period was undone when Zack Smith took an interference penalty and Nikita Soshnikov took advantage of the power play to rip a shot through Marc Methot's legs and past a screened Hammond. There wasn't much Hammond could have done on either of the first two goals.
The Sens earned a power play late in the second but were extremely ineffectual, barely gaining the attacking end for more than ten seconds at a time. On the whole, it was a better effort than the first period but the Sens trailed 2-1 after 40 minutes. Shots were 16-10 Leafs, but the attempts were 22-19 in favour of the Sens at 5v5.
The third period started well for the Sens with sudden sniper Marc Methot finding the back of the net less than three minutes into the period after another strong cycle from the Scott Gomez line:
Frankly, the Sens played a more complete game in the third period than they had in the first two. I'm loathe to use words like "complete" but the Ottawa crew was much better able to contain the Leafs' speed in the third than they had been in the first two periods. Dave Cameron did a lot of line juggling down the stretch, at one point benching Mike Hoffman, but he kept the Pageau-Stone-Smith line together and they rewarded him for his patience with the game winning goal less than three minutes from the end:
Truth be told the Sens looked a bit slow at times against the speed of the Leafs, and I wouldn't crow about giving up 43 shots, but after a very bad first period the team settled down and were the slightly better side the rest of the game. Coupled with a Penguins loss, the faint play-offs hope of the Senators lives to see another day.
Sens Hero: Andrew Hammond
Hammond was asked to do a lot this game and he was mostly up to the task, stopping 41 of the 43 shots he faced. If it weren't for the Hamburglar, this game doesn't go Ottawa's way.
Sens Hero: Zack Smith
Smith gets the late-game winner and thus the Sens Hero status.
Sens Killer: Leafs Team Speed
This kiddie edition of the Maple Leafs has its deficiencies, but boy can they skate. Toronto dominated played in the neutral zone by taking time and space away from the Sens. Too many Ottawa players looked a step too slow on this night.