Toronto Maple Leafs for the final time this seas..."/> Toronto Maple Leafs for the final time this seas..."/>

Game Recap: TOR @ OTT – The Final Battle

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The Senators hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs for the final time this season as the playoff hopes of the Maple Leafs rested on a win and some help in order to qualify for the post-season.  In a battle of Ontario, it was also a battle of second-half stories as James Reimer faced Craig Anderson from opposing creases.  Ottawa was bitten by the injury bug again as Erik Karlsson was out with a lacerated leg muscle  from the last game in FloridaAndre Benoit was called up from Binghamton to replace him in the lineup.  The spotlight was on Stephane Da Costa, who  made his debut after the much publicized bidding war for the NCAA Free Agent was won by the Senators on Thursday.

The first period saw Toronto take the play to the Senators early on, as Ottawa apparently forgot it was a 7:00 start.  Craig Anderson was the lone Senator to show up for puck drop, as he was sharp.  He was forced to make a number of  difficult saves early on, most notably on Nikolai Kulemin.  The line of Da Costa, Bobby Butler and Nick Foligno seemed to get the Senators in the game with a great shift that saw them cycling the puck at will in the Leafs end for the better part of a minute.  However, they were unable to beat Reimer, despite the dominant shift.  The next shift saw Phil Kessel break down the right wing, and burn past Filip Kuba.  Inexplicably, Kuba turned toward the inside as opposed to the outside where Kessel was, giving the Leaf speedster a clear path to the net.  He took it, and although Anderson made the stop on the first shot, he was unable to corral the rebound and Kessel buried it while Kuba was still trying to catch up.    Marek Svatos was hit in the head with Jay Rosehill‘s stick, and was forced to leave the game with a concussion.  That was the lowlight of the period that ended 1-0.

Ottawa finally showed some jump early in the second, but it was the Leafs who added to their lead before the period was five minutes old.  Anderson showed he is indeed human, and he misplayed a puck behind the net, giving the puck to rookie Nazem Kadri, who threw it out front and banked it in off Anderson’s skate.  The Leafs were on the verge of making it 3-0 shortly thereafter, but it was Stephane Da Costa’s backcheck that saved a goal by knocking Clarke MacArthur down while he was staring an open net in the face.  Ottawa nearly beat Reimer when Foligno’s blind pass found Jesse Winchester in the clear, but he couldn’t beat Reimer as the goalie stuck his leg out and Winchester could not get it over the pad.  Ottawa did get on the board in the last minute, as Butler sent Jason Spezza away to the races, and the scorching Spezza made no mistake on the breakaway.  He beat Reimer below the glove to send the Senators to the room trailing by one, but with some hope to still be the spoiler for their rival’s playoff hopes.

With Michael Grabovski off for hooking, Spezza scored his second of the game as he wired a slapshot past Reimer from the top of the circle.  Right after that, Jesse Winchester got his stick up on Clarke MacArthur, and in a rare moment of civility in this rivalry, he apologized to MacArthur at the whistle, before being escorted to the box.  MacArthur appeared to accept the apology and they made plans to go for tea after the game.  OK I made that last part up about the tea.  Toronto re-took the lead on the ensuing power play, as Joffrey Lupul took advantage of traffic in front to take a shot from the slot, that bounced in off Tyler Bozak‘s skate.   Ottawa fought back valiantly as Chris Neil forced Reimer to make a great glove save, and in his best scoring chance of the game Da Costa beat the goalie but not the post.  The battle of Ontario became nasty again as Zack Smith nailed Matt Lashoff from behind into the glass.  With just over 8 minutes left, the five minute major for boarding took away any momentum the Senators had, although they were able to kill the penalty off.  Another forgettable shift for Kuba saw him give the puck away twice in his own zone, the second of which eventually led to Kulemin’s insurance goal, as he beat Anderson high glove side for his 29th of the season. The final was 4-2 in favor of the Leafs.

CHECK OUT THE GAME HIGHLIGHTS FROM NHL.COM

THE UP SIDE

Stephane Da Costa played over 11 minutes, and looked very good.  He showed passing, shooting, cycling and defensive abilities.  However if he is going to play centre in the NHL, his 0-for-4 faceoff record has to improve.

Jason Spezza‘s pair gave him 19, and is one away from reaching the 20 goal mark, which is important for the Senators this season for one reason.

Andre Benoit saw over 20 minutes of ice time and led the Senators with 7 shots on goal.  He had an assist on Spezza’s 2nd goal.

THE DOWN SIDE

Filip Kuba had a night he would like  to forget, as he was directly responsible for two Leafs goals.

Craig Anderson is not a machine, and showed he can make some mistakes.

*  *  *

MY THREE STARS

3rd Star – Dion Phaneuf, TOR – Played over 27 minutes, with three shots on goal and was +2.

2nd Star – Clarke MacArthur, TOR –  The Leafs best forward had a pair of assists.

1st Star – Jason Spezza, OTT – In a losing effort, was the Senators lone source of offense again.

FINAL THOUGHT

Despite protestations from Cory Clouston and Smith himself, Zack Smith’s boarding major was absolutely warranted.  It was an unnecessary hit on an unsuspecting player whose back was turned.  The puck was gone, and Smith forward momentum was stopped when he used his arms to shove  Matt Lashoff from behind.  These is a perfect example of the types of hits that the league is trying to get rid of.  Protest if you will, but Smith shouldn’t have done it.

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