TORONTO - Back in the day, when the Battle of Ontario was forged, the Maple Leafs used to make a habit of getting the best of the Ottawa Senators in the playoffs.
In the first meaningful game involving the provincial rivals in recent memory, the Senators exacted some revenge, surviving for a 3-2 victory despite being badly outshot on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre.
There was a time when superior goaltending helped the Leafs vanquish the Senators. But it was Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson who was the difference, making 37 saves, including turning aside all 21 Toronto shots in the second period.
The Leafs, still in ninth place in the Eastern Conference with 49 points, have lost three in a row in regulation for the first time in 2011-12.
“We could not just put the puck in the net,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “Simple as that. And their goalie made some pretty spectacular saves in some situations where you would expect us to score. You get 39 shots, you expect to score five or six goals.”
While a hot Anderson has been a big part of a surge that has seen the Senators win nine of their past 11 games, it was a cold James Reimer who was tabbed by Wilson to defend the Leafs net. In his first appearance since New Year’s Eve, Reimer was jostled in the crease at times and was beaten high on two of the Senators goals.
On the other Ottawa goal, Reimer was trapped under Senators forward Jason Spezza, who got his stick blade on the puck after Kaspars Daugavins kicked it toward the goal line. That tied the game 2-2 late in the second period.
“They have one of the most difficult jobs in hockey so I never harp on them,” Reimer said of the referees. “It was a little disappointing because I felt that I was not able to make an effort to make a save.
“I thought they had a lot of traffic and were right on top of the crease. But that is what good teams do.”
Reimer made 18 saves in a game that brought back some memories of the boiling blood that once existed between the clubs.
Mike Brown and Zenon Konopka fought in the first period because they were on the ice at the same time, but when Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf scrapped with Nick Foligno, it was after Foligno wiped out Phaneuf with a low hit. The game wasn’t overly chippy, but it’s nice to know the two sides still dislike each other.
Wilson’s line changes didn’t result in a winning formula. Along with Reimer, centre Tyler Bozak was back after missing seven games with shoulder injury, bumping Tim Connolly to the third line. Tough guy Jay Rosehill made a spectator out of Nazem Kadri, and rookie defenceman Jake Gardiner returned after a game with the Marlies, forcing Mike Komisarek to the press box.
Bozak had the biggest impact, as he plainly brings more jam to the top unit than Connolly. Bozak did not record a point, but was on the ice when Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul hooked up for a Lupul goal, one that snapped a season-long three-game points drought for both Kessel and Lupul.
That gave the Leafs a 2-0 lead, along with a goal by Matthew Lombardi, but Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson got one back for the visitors with 7.5 seconds remaining in the first.
After Spezza’s goal was deemed to be good following a review, Kyle Turris scored the winner early in the third on a wrist shot that he fired into the net over Reimer’s left shoulder.
The Sens then went into lockdown mode, and Anderson had to handle just eight shots in the final 20 minutes.
On the whole, though, the Leafs didn’t bear down with a ton of urgency.
“It’s frustrating, for sure,” Lombardi said. “It was a big game for us. We let them hang around and we got away from our game and it bit us in the end.”
Nick Foligno defended his low hit on Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf.
During the second period of the Ottawa Senators’ 3-2 victory, Foligno, who was assessed a minor for clipping, sent Phaneuf flying butt over teakettle, causing the Leafs defenceman to spend a brief time in the dressing room.
When Phaneuf returned to action minutes later, it was not long before the pair fought.
“I didn’t (agree with the clipping call),” Foligno said. “I saw him coming full speed. He kind of leaves his feet and I get low because I want to protect myself and also hip-check him. He kind of makes it look worse by leaving his feet. I don’t think there’s much to go (further) with that. We fought, that’s it.”
Reporters waited for Phaneuf in the Leafs room after the game, but were told by a media relations member that the Leafs defenceman was getting medical treatment and would not be available.
Expect NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan to have a look at the hit. It was reminiscent — though not as serious — of the hit that Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand put on the Vancouver Canucks’ Sami Salo recently. Marchand was suspended for five games.
“I have not seen the hit,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “The referees thought it was a bad hit. I don’t know where you go from there.”
Tyler Bozak wasn’t sure if there would be further discipline.
Said Matthew Lombardi: “He just ducks under him. It is a tough play to defend.”