Leafs improving, but still need a miracle

April 2, 2010 - Ottawa Senators' Chris Neil (25) looks for a loose puck in front of Toronto Maple...

April 2, 2010 - Ottawa Senators' Chris Neil (25) looks for a loose puck in front of Toronto Maple Leafs' goalie, James Reimer (34) as Mike Komisarek (8) and Matt Lashoff (29) look on during the third period of NHL action at Scotiabank Place Saturday, April 2, 2011. Leafs won 4-2. (DARREN BROWN/QMI AGENCY)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:32 PM ET

OTTAWA — The Maple Leafs now have more points than in the past four years, better goaltending and improving special teams.

But it will still take a miracle to make it add up to a playoff spot.

Their nail-biting 4-2 win over the Senators closed them within three points of the idle eighth-place New York Rangers, keeping chances alive until next week’s final NHL games, moving within three of idle New York. The Rangers game Sunday afternoon against the Flyers can’t eliminate the Leafs, but with three games to go the Leafs can’t ignore the Carolina Hurricanes blocking their way in ninth spot. The Canes won as well on Saturday to stay two points ahead.

Toronto surrendered a two-goal lead to their provincial rivals, who gave up on the season long ago, but weren’t about to let the Leafs waltz in for an easy two points. A Tyler Bozak power-play goal restored the lead with 14 minutes to go in the third, but Toronto managed just one shot on a five-minute major when Zack Smith boarded Matt Lashoff.

Toronto’s 37th win and 84th point wasn’t sealed until the 18:40 mark when Nikolai Kulemin beat Craig Anderson and sent legions of Leafs fans home happy.

The Leafs began with no drop off from their frantic finish in Boston two nights earlier, testing Craig Anderson early and often. Anderson, 4-1 against the Leafs with a .956 save percentage was equal to the task until Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabovski made sweet passes to Phil Kessel for a partial breakaway. Anderson made the stop, but Kessel stayed on the puck and bumped the rebound through for his 30th this year, 60th as a Leaf and third season with at least 30.

He will aslo carry a seven-game points streak into Tuesday’s game against Washington, matching his and the team’s 2009-10 high.

Ottawa had avoided paying for some first-period giveaways, but Toronto finally cashed in when Anderson got careless behind his net. Nazem Kadri stripped him and his centring pass struck a Senator before the goalie could recover. It was Kadri’s third goal of the year and came after a shootout winner in Boston.

But despite a pair of 2-on-1s, including Tyler Bozak and the dangerous Kessel, the Leafs couldn’t build on it before the third. And after Luke Schenn missed a slap pass attempt to Clarke MacArthur, Schenn lost a puck that Bobby Butler relayed to a breaking Jason Spezza. Reimer thought about coming out, but stayed deep in the crease and Spezza went upstairs.

The final frame opened with a Mikhail Grabovski tripping call, which Toronto came within 10 seconds of killing before Spezza added his second.

Though both sides in the Battle of Ontario could be sidelined for the playoffs this year, it was still a great six-game set, especially when Reimer arrived after New Year’s Day. Before the Spezza goal, he had stopped 69 of 70 shots in regulation play of his three games.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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