Leafs get last laugh

BILL LANKHOF

, Last Updated: 7:29 AM ET

The Battle of Ontario was turning into a rout.

Fortunately for the Maple Leafs they don't know when they're beaten.

Toronto fought back from a 3-1 third period deficit to beat the Ottawa Senators -- looking for their sixth win in eight meetings this year -- 4-3 last night.

The hero? Darcy Tucker, scoring with 1:49 remaining in overtime; his second of the game. It made up for loads of earlier frustrations. It left the Leafs jubilant; Tucker punching the air with his fist.

"We were playing our butts off," he said. "We needed this game. We knew it. The fans knew it and we just kept working hard and this time it paid off."

It may not be the biggest goal of his career, but it ranks right up there. "This," he said, "is huge." Instead of falling behind the Montreal Canadiens, the Maple Leafs now move into a tie for the final playoff spot with Carolina at 75 points. Four teams remain within a two of each other for that final spot. Toronto has weathered injury, a lousy home record and retold adversity.

"We have an honest bunch of guys," said coach Paul Maurice, noting many teams with injuries such as the Leafs would have folded. "... To lose five of our top nine and still be in our position. I've got a lot of time for the people in that dressing room."

For 50 minutes all the hard work seemed for naught. Kyle Wellwood revived the power play, returning to the lineup for the first time since Dec. 19. When they weren't clanking iron, they found Ottawa goaltender Ray Emery between them and a tie for the final playoff spot. Toronto got goals from Boyd Devereaux, Tucker and Nik Antropov out shooting Ottawa 41-21 in regulation.

They had five power plays in the first two periods -- Tucker scored once, snapping an 0-for-18 drought. "I had to put one in or Kyle woulda' stop passing it to me," Tucker said. But with Mike Fisher and Daniel Alfredsson putting the Senators up 2-1, it looked like the Leafs' momentum might falter when Dany Heatley scored short-handed with less than a minute to play in the second.

"Deflating?" Andrew Raycroft said. "We had all the momentum in the world going and suddenly you're thinking 'oh, not again (of the team's sub-.500 home record).' "

With the fans silenced by Heatley's goal, the Senators looked home and cooled out. Ten minutes into the third, Matt Stajan's forechecking in the corner got the puck to Devereaux inside the blue line and his shot through a crowd fooled Emery. "We needed this game ... even behind 3-1," Tucker said, "we weren't down in the dressing room. Between periods Mats told the guys 'keep pushing. Don't get frustrated.' "

The tying goal came with 4:02 left when Ponikarovsky jumped up at centre after a hard hit, fought for the puck and passed to Sundin who sprinted down the wing. He fed Antropov in the slot. He dangled the puck at Emery, pulled it back and flipped it high into the net. It was Toronto's 39th shot. Cue pandemonium.

"This was as good a game as we've played," Maurice said, looking a lot like a proud papa. "When Tucker hits the post a few minutes into the game you're feeling good about yourself because you're getting chances. By the time you've hit the fourth post you're going 'This Just Isn't Right!'

Tucker's winner came when Pavel Kubina moved the puck into the zone. He had the better shot, but a recently fractured finger left him pushing it off to Tucker at the top of the circle. He sent a laser into the net.

"My shot is not the greatest right now, so I was thinking pass all the way," Kubina said. "It's still tight on the standings and will be until the end."

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REPORT CARD

B Forwards: Put almost 40 shots on Ray Emery, including third-period goals by Boyd Devereaux and Nik Antropov. There was more creativity shown with the return of Kyle Wellwood.

C Defence: Gradually getting better in the absence of Tomas Kaberle, but still vulnerable to the slick Ottawa forwards. A better effort in the third period helped the comeback.

C Goaltending: Six of the eight goals against Andrew Raycroft in this two-game series were special teams-oriented.


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