There’s finally some battle back in the Battle of Ontario.
And, as of now, the Ottawa Senators hold the decided edge.
Despite going down 2-0 early and being outshot heavily, the Sens pulled out a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday, thanks to yet another sparkling performance from netminder Craig Anderson.
One of the hottest teams in the league, Ottawa’s record improved to 12-2-2 in its last 16 games, as it handed the Leafs their third loss in a row.
As for the battle, it came in all different forms. This was a game that featured one big momentum swing, two early fights, a clipping penalty, a disputed goal and some strong goaltending – mainly in the Sens’ end of the rink.
The difference maker, however, came early in the third, as Sens newcomer Kyle Turris flicked a seeing-eye wrist shot over netminder James Reimer, glove side, to put his team ahead for the first time.
Reimer was down early on what would be the game-winner, and despite his team holding a 30-10 edge at one point on the shot clock, that was enough to allow Ottawa to pull off a comeback in an NHL season that’s been full of dramatic third-period finishes.
“We dominated the second period,” Leafs head coach Ron Wilson lamented. “It should have probably been four or 5-1 ... But we had so many chances and we just didn’t finish the chances. Their goalie made some pretty spectacular saves in some situations where you’d expect us to score.”
“He’s been unbelievable,” Turris said of his goaltender. “He’s stood on his head every night for us whether we're up 2-0 or down 2-0. He's making the saves especially when we're down ... he's making the big saves to keep us in it and give us the chance to come back like tonight.”
After Leafs centre Matt Lombardi opened the scoring only seven minutes in with his first goal in 18 games, teammates Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul combined on a 2-on-1 to end a three-game pointless drought and make it 2-0.
From there, Ottawa put up three unanswered goals, getting tallies from their big names: Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Turris.
Spezza’s tying goal was the most controversial, as he was parked on top of Reimer – and could have been called for interference – when he got a stick on a puck kicked toward the net by a teammate late in the second.
“Spezza was in the crease on top of him, and he couldn’t move,” Wilson said. “He had like a leg lock on him ... . It’s so hard for the officials in a situation like that. It’s not reviewable. But Jason was all over him.”
“I was just a little disappointed because I felt I wasn’t able to make an effort to make a save,” Reimer said.
After that came Turris’s heroics – giving him 11 points in 15 games since joining the Sens from the Phoenix Coyotes in a trade – and a strong defensive effort by Ottawa to secure the two points the rest of the way.
“I thought I was there,” Reimer said of the winning goal. “It did surprise me that went in. Maybe I was off my angle.”
With the win, the Sens improved to 58 points, nine up on the ninth-place Maple Leafs and a remarkable 18-point improvement over where they were at this time last season.
Ottawa also now holds the edge in the season series, earning their third win in four games over Toronto with two more meetings between the rivals coming in the next two months.
“Both teams are a lot better teams than we've been the last couple years and the games mean a lot more,” Spezza said. “When there's a lot at stake, the games become more intense. I think it's great for the game and great for our rivalry.
"They're fun games to play when you're competing like that.”
Some of the game’s secondary drama came midway through the second period, as Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf was dumped end over end – landing at least partially on his head – by winger Nick Foligno on a low hit.
Foligno went off for two minutes for clipping – reminiscent of Boston Bruins pest Brad Marchand’s hit on Vancouver Canuck Sami Salo – and Phaneuf briefly went to the dressing room.
After returning, Phaneuf chased Foligno down in the Ottawa zone and dropped the gloves. The defenceman was clearly miffed after his first fight of the season, slamming his stick in the penalty box after a lengthy bout that was essentially a draw.
“I knew he was coming after me after that whole thing,” Foligno said. “I just asked him if he wanted to fight and he obliged. I think it just ended everything that happened there.
“It was good. Finished what we had started I guess.”
Phaneuf didn’t come out to speak with the media after the game, and a Leafs staffer said he was “receiving treatment” from the training or medical staff.
Reimer’s return to the Toronto crease after six games on the bench was overshadowed by Anderson, who made most of his best saves in the second period with his team trailing and being dominated on the shot clock.
Anderson’s big night comes during an unbelievable run in January, as he had a 6-1-1 record, 1.83 goals-against average and .945 save percentage entering the game.
Reimer was far less busy at the other end of the rink, seeing just 12 shots in the first two periods, and he appeared to fight the puck a little in his first action in 2012.
He fell to 3-5-3 since returning from a concussion and may be in for another game as backup on Thursday against Minnesota.
“We’ve got to find a way to score some more goals in front of him and get him to feel comfortable,” Wilson said.