As Ottawa's Chris Neil headed for the bus at the Air Canada Centre last night, there was some good-natured bantering with the ushers about another playoff meeting with the Maple Leafs.
A little earlier, the concept of Toronto even qualifying for a post-season berth was in doubt, down two goals to the Senators with teams above and below them ahead on the out-of-town board. The Leafs had given up a short-handed goal to fall behind 3-1 and seemed destined to lose to Ottawa for the sixth time in eight games.
But the ACC fans, always quick to pounce whenever things go awry, sensed the Leafs were the victims of bad luck, not bad effort and stayed in their corner. What transpired was one of their strongest third period/overtimes of the year, from Andrew Raycroft out, shocking their nemesis from the nation's capital with three goals.
"It was an unbelievable feeling to hear 'Go Leafs Go' when we were down two," frequent fan pinata Nik Antropov said. "That was something that helped us."
Ottawa had just five shots in the final 23:11. Mats Sundin had 11 of Toronto's 45 shots and once again avoided going three games without a point, a significant streak that is now almost a full year old.
"We knew we'd see a desperate team," Wade Redden said of his Sens choking on a third-period lead for the fourth time in five games. "They just wore us down with their forecheck. We sat back and they kept coming."
The tying goal was a stunner for the Sens, a Hail Mary pass from deep in the Leafs' zone that caused a massive centre-ice collision.
But 6-foot-4 Alexei Ponikarovsky outjumped 6-foot-3 Jason Spezza, came up with the puck and from his knees, helped set up Antropov.
Leafs goaltender Andrew Raycroft survived a blast off his mask from a Mike Fisher shot in the third period. The reverberations of the shot split his lip.
"It rings your bell a bit," Raycroft said of the blow. "But it doesn't stop for us. We have another huge game (tomorrow) against Tampa Bay."
Kyle Wellwood was back in the Toronto lineup, bouncing centres Yanic Perreault and Travis Green from the lineup, though coach Paul Maurice said Perreault had an undisclosed minor injury.
"I can't remember ever being hurt for more than a game or two," Wellwood said. "There wasn't very many activities (doctors) had me doing. I had to be a bit of a homebody and stare out the window. The worst part was watching the games and wishing I was out there."
Boyd Devereaux came out of the press box to score the Leafs' second goal.