For some years now, the Battle of Ontario has mostly existed on paper.
Saturday night in Ottawa they actually put it on paper and handed it out to every one of the thousands of Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs fans flooding into Scotiabank Place.
“Stay Classy!” the new BofO “Code of Conduct” asked fans who, in the past, have gotten rather rowdy as the two estranged Ontario cities met on the ice.
Drink responsibly, show respect, watch your language – and they even provided a “snitch” address to text your tattles to.
Such fun – and the puck hadn’t even dropped.
When it finally did, the Battle that had come to exist on paper was surprisingly re-ignited on the ice.
The Senators won in dramatic fashion when, with only 23.4 seconds left in the game, Colin Greening managed to pick a Patrick Wiercioch rebound out of the air and chip the puck in behind Toronto goaltender Ben Scrivens.
“He made a great play batting it out of the air,” said Ottawa Captain Daniel Alfredsson.
Ottawa’s 3-2 win vaulted them two points higher than Toronto in the standings and marked the team’s surprising fourth consecutive victory.
Winning in regulation also meant no single point for the Leafs.
“The more you can win in regulation the better,” said Alfredsson.
“It’s huge for us.”
The Senators had been keen to avenge last week’s 3-0 loss to the Leafs at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. Since that loss, they had won three straight – defeating New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers – and stood tied with Toronto at 22 points as each team laced up for Round Two of the BofO in this compressed season.
With the Scotiabank “library” screaming loud for once – the fans’ lungs, if not their numbers, evenly split – Toronto took the early lead on only the second shot of the game.
And it wasn’t much of a shot, either. The Senators became confused in their own end, coughing up a puck that ended up on the stick of Mikhail Grabovski. His fairly soft wrist shot somehow squeaked through the long legs of Ottawa goaltender Ben Bishop.
Bishop, now the team’s No. 1 goaltender while NHL-Player-of-the-Month for January, Craig Anderson, recovers from the ankle he sprained against the Rangers, steadied after that, however, and the play slowly shifted in favour of the Senators.
Halfway through the opening period, Ottawa rookie Mika Zibanejad managed to tip a long shot by Greening and the puck flew into the Toronto net past Scrivens.
“I’m starting to find my game,” said Zibanejad, who scored his third goal of the season.
Well into the second period, both teams were playing with passion, the crowd so fully engaged there was not even the suggestion of a “wave.” At one point, the two teams went more than nine minutes without a single whistle.
“The only ones yelling for a whistle were the coaches,” said Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean.
It was, by a considerable length, the best hockey game played this year in Ottawa.
“I thought it was very entertaining,” said MacLean.
The Senators are down their three best players – centre Jason Spezza (back surgery), defenceman Erik Karlsson (Achilles tendon) and Anderson – but the slack seemed easily picked up by various minor-leaguers and, especially, ageless 40-year-old Alfredsson, who had another strong game.
The Leafs have their own injury woes – Joffrey Lupul (broken arm) and goaltender James Reimer (knee) – yet played a strong game and likely would have scored more but for Bishop’s positioning.
In the final minute of the second period, Ottawa defenceman Eric Gryba took a long shot that Scrivens bobbled. Senators forward Erik Condra rushed the net but was propelled into Scrivens by Toronto defender Korbinian Holzer and the loose puck somehow ended up in the net.
Following a review, the goal was allowed to stand, much to the disappointment of the thousands of Leafs fans in the building.
The Leafs tied the game early in the third period with their own ugly goal on a power play – Gryba off for holding – when Clarke MacArthur was able to bulldoze a puck past Bishop following a wild scrum in Bishop’s crease.
Greening then won it for the Senators with time running out and overtime seeming a certainty.
The 19,499 fans stayed “classy” with one exception – a Senators fan who wore a revolving red light on top of his hockey helmet and gave the middle finger over the scoreboard.
The other fans saw a superb game, well played with furious action at times. It was like the best of the old playoffs between these two intraprovincial rivals.
The Battle of Ontario lives.
Circle Wednesday, Mar. 6 on the calendar.
Toronto, Air Canada Centre.
Next date for these two in the BofO.