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The Globe and Mail

Senators feel the heat as stakes get higher

By the end of the second period, the Scotiabank Place scoreboard was advertising a movie perfectly in keeping with what was happening on the ice.

The Hangover, Part III.

These Big Nights – Senators and Maple Leafs – sure do feel like an endless series of headaches for Ottawa fans.

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And the pounding only intensified Monday morning with the realization that the New York Rangers, by defeating the New Jersey Devils 4-1 Sunday, had moved into a seventh place tie with the Senators, with Ottawa holding a game in hand.

Saturday night in Ottawa saw the Leafs grinding out a 4-1 victory, despite being outplayed and outshot 50-22, leaving Senators fans to wonder if this hangover is a permanent condition when it comes to the Leafs.

Ottawa coach Paul MacLean had earlier said – tongue only half in cheek – that he hoped they could "take the crowd out of it" early. As has been the case since the first recorded skirmishes of the Battle of Ontario, the sellout crowd of 20,500 was roughly split in loyalties, but the blue-and-white jerseys louder and more rambunctious. Ottawa fans would say obnoxious, but some nights Ottawa fans would be shushing a library.

Besides, Leafs fans had every reason to cheer, as their team is now headed for the playoffs for the first time in nine long years.

"It's a great feeling for our team to say we clinched," said an ecstatic Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf.

"That was the goal that we set when we started in January," said Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle.

Saturday was not a good day for the Senators no matter where they looked. The Winnipeg Jets, chasing a playoff spot themselves, had gained a point in losing a shootout to the charging New York Islanders, but the Islanders' two points had lifted them over the Senators, who had entered the weekend looking fairly solid in sixth place.

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Now the Senators have not only the Rangers and Isles to concern themselves with, but the mathematical possibility that streaking Jets team could also battle for a playoff spot. Ottawa has four games remaining – Monday against the East's top team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins. The Jets have only three chances to gain points: Buffalo Sabres, Capitals and Montreal Canadiens.

There is a saying around Ottawa that "The Senators can never beat the Leafs when it matters," and there is some hard evidence to back up that knock. The teams met in the playoffs in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2004 – with the Leafs emerging triumphant each test. Two of the years, 2002 and 2004, went to Game 7; in 2002 the Senators were up three games to two and could not close the deal, ultimately being shut out 3-0 in the seventh match.

Much to the continuing chagrin of Ottawa fans, the Leafs appear to own the Senators. Toronto goaltender James Reimer, the first star of Saturday night, has now won six in a row in the Ottawa rink.

"I have no idea why we're getting good results here," a smiling Reimer said, "but it's fun."

"Obviously," MacLean said, "Reimer must be the Vézina Trophy winner and the Hart Trophy winner. He gets our vote because he stops every puck we get there."

"Not the result we were looking for," said Ottawa centre Zack Smith. "When you have 50 shots you expect to score more than one goal but I guess they weren't quality scoring chances."

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Both sides were acutely aware of the stakes in this game. "Anyone would be lying if they said they don't look at the standings," Smith said.

Fans also look at shot clocks and the disparity this night was in stunning contrast to the score. James van Riemsdyk scored twice, first by tipping a Cody Franson blast from the point, then getting his 18th of the season on a power play, courtesy of Smith's high-sticking penalty. Phil Kessel picked up assists on both goals to raise his team-leading points total to 48.

Ottawa finally scored late in the middle period when Jakob Silfverberg, Ottawa's best player on the night, used linemate Mika Zibanejad as a screen to beat Reimer.

Nazem Kadri, at the end of a long shift, scored on a wrist shot that somehow leaked through Anderson and into the Ottawa net. It was a rear weak goal – for both Kadri and Anderson.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, thanks in no small part to Reimer's 49 saves this night, are now chomping at the bit to get going in the postseason.

The Ottawa Senators and their fans, on the other hand, are left chewing their nails.

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