It all comes together

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:20 AM ET

Time was running out on the Maple Leafs in 2007 -- until they set their time machine to the turn of the century.

Back before the Ottawa Senators routinely beat them like rented mules, back to a golden age of playoff hockey where Bryan McCabe, Tomas Kaberle, Darcy Tucker and Mats Sundin were big names in eliminating the Ottawa Senators in four consecutive series.

Last night's trip was a success when against all odds, they beat the NHL-leading Bytowners 3-0 at the Air Canada Centre. A week that began with another set of off-ice distractions and the threat of a four-game losing streak ended with the Leafs back in the top eight of the conference, with what many called their best game of the season.

"We actually gave the crowd something to cheer about," McCabe said of just their fourth ACC win in 12 starts.

"If we play that well in our end, we're a playoff team," Sundin said.

"That was hospital hockey out there, lots of patience," chirped Alex Steen of holding the hot Sens to 24 shots, killing all four penalties and winning for just the third time in 20 post-lockout episodes of the Battle of Ontario (3-15-2).

The reunited defensive pairing of McCabe and Kaberle both assisted on power-play goals by Tucker and Sundin, with rookie Jiri Tlusty adding a late goal.

That the Leafs were still in the game at that stage was a tribute to Vesa Toskala's first shutout of the year and crisp penalty-killing from forwards Boyd Devereaux, Nik Antropov, Steen and Matt Stajan.

The win took a weighty load of pressure off of general manager John Ferguson, who made the rounds of the dressing room congratulating each player and coach Paul Maurice, who was growing testy under the media spotlight defending his team from attack.

"We've taken small steps the past four or five games, but the big piece tonight is that we competed from start to finish," Maurice said.

Toronto held its usual antagonists Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley to four shots. It was Toskala's first shutout as a Leaf and ninth of his NHL career.

"The first period cost us the game," Ottawa coach John Paddock said. "If you don't want to get the puck in deep, play simple and right, you end up not establishing any momentum or anything at all."

The Leafs are 8-8-5 in the standings, with Sundin gaining his 27th point in 21 games on a five-hole slapshot. Martin Gerber, with only one loss in 25 games going back to last season, gave up a fat rebound of a McCabe shot to Tucker after Kaberle trapped the puck at the blue line.

Tucker had not scored in a month when a seven-game injury hiatus is added and had not seen PP beside his name since March 24 of last season.

Steen hit the crossbar on what would've been the opening goal.

"We just kept chipping it past them at the blue line and wearing down their defencemen," Steen said. "It was a good game, our best of the year, top to bottom. Vesa made some great saves."

His best was a 3-on-1 against Mike Fisher with the game in doubt and then stacking the pads on Alfredsson's partial breakaway in the dying minutes.

The Leafs are nearing the end of a long stretch of games against Northeast Division opponents, seven of eight, concluding at home Tuesday against the Boston Bruins. The Leafs are 3-1-2 in that span, while Ottawa had not been shut out this year.

"If we had doubters in this room, I hope it's gone," Sundin said. "This shows you have to keep the faith."

---

REPLAY

TURNING POINT

A first period penalty to Alexei Ponikarovsky where the Senators didn't get over the Leafs blue line for the first minute, established Toronto's confidence that they could keep up with the Sens.

GAME STAR

Boyd Devereaux's hustle on the penalty kill and 5-on-5 put the Leafs in the driver's seat.

STAT OF THE GAME

For the first time in this year's Battle of Ontario, the Sens did not get a first-period goal.

IN ELITE COMPANY

The Leafs became only the third team to beat the Senators this season. The others are Carolina and Washington.

OOPS

Martin Gerber fired a hard clearing attempt right off defenceman Chris Phillips' head in the first period. Ottawa's Andrej Meszaros and Toronto's Andy Wozniewski went off for shooting pucks over the glass within five minutes of each other.

CRUSHED

Mike Krushelnyski (113 points in 269 games between 1990-94) was the special guest in the alumni section.

CROWDED AFFAIR

Last night drew a season high 19,596 fans to the ACC.


Videos

Photos