Leafs get physical

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

The Battle of Ontario may have temporarily turned into the battle of the bottom feeders, but at least it still can offer some entertainment value and the occasional gush of bad blood.

It was far from a thing of beauty, last night's 3-1 Maple Leafs win over the Ottawa Senators, nor should it have been expected.

The matchup, after all, featured the league's lowest scoring team (Ottawa, 83 goals) vs. the team that has surrendered the most goals (Toronto, 137). Let's just say that the two teams don't seem to be threatening to renew their past playoff rivalry any time soon.

That said, in moving seven points ahead of the Senators in the standings, the Leafs showed some traits that have, at times, been missing this season.

For one, goaltender Vesa Toskala had a strong night, kicking aside 29 of 30 shots for the win.

And with general manager Brian Burke watching from on high, the Leafs played more physical than they often do, especially after a first period in which they were pushed around.

"We tried to match them hit for hit," said Leafs forward Alexei Ponikarovsky, who scored the game winner at the 10:03 mark of the third period. "They hit a lot and we tried to mirror that. We weren't going to let them push us around."

Ponikarovsky, with his first goal in five games, connected thanks to a heads-up play by defenceman Pavel Kubina. Sprung from the penalty box, Kubina chased down the puck in the Sens' zone and patiently waited to feed the big forward, who buried a shot past Ottawa goalie Martin Gerber.

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Jason Blake put it away with 4:09 remaining on a wrap-around goal to give the Leafs a 2-1 edge on the Sens in the season series.

In between, there were just enough hits and skirmishes to bring back memories of the battles these two teams have had over the years.

It didn't take long for tempers to heat up, Just 17 seconds, in fact, when Leafs forward Dominic Moore hit Sens forward Jason Spezza after the whistle. The retaliation by Spezza resulted in a two-minute slashing penalty that looked more like a spear to most of the 19,406 at the Air Canada Centre.

"It was a spear, but I can't complain," said Moore, who scored his eighth of the season to open the scoring for the Leafs on the power play at 9:47 of the second period. "We play them a lot and the games are going to get physical when you see a team as often as we see them."

"That wasn't a spear, it was just a slash to the middle of the belly," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said sarcastically.

Despite having most of the same cast that led the league in goals the past two seasons, the Sens, who now have the worst road record in the league at 4-11-2, are struggling offensively. None were worse last night than Spezza, who twice couldn't deposit the puck into the empty net when Toskala was caught wandering.

As for the physical play, the Leafs woke up after the first period and weren't shy about getting in the face of a grumpy bunch of underachieving Sens who seemed determined to make a statement.

"We saw that Ottawa suddenly realized they better start acting desperate if they want to have any shot of making the playoffs all," Wilson said. "They showed some intensity tonight and that was good for us. We responded."


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