TORONTO – It was pretty easy to find some significance in what appeared to be a meaningless Battle of Ontario.
The joy was there for all to see in the Toronto Maple Leafs dressing room, where Boyd Devereaux and Martin Gerber each wore a big smile after Saturday’s 5-2 victory over Ottawa on Saturday.
They’re just the kind of players who will never look past the final game of another lost season in Toronto. That much was clear as Devereaux registered his second career hat trick and Gerber made 37 saves to earn a win against the team that waived him last month.
Neither had any trouble getting motivated for this one.
“It’s still Saturday night in Toronto and you’re playing for the Leafs on ‘Hockey Night in Canada,”‘ said Devereaux. “Definitely whenever you get a chance to pop a hat trick, you definitely get excited about it.
“I’m sure it’s more satisfying in a Game 7 playoff game but certainly I’ll take it. For sure.”
He would have had a tough time imagining this night back in October. Devereaux was the team’s final cut out of training camp and spent the first couple months in the American Hockey League.
The 30-year-old was eventually called up in February and managed to stay with the big club the rest of the way. He’s now an unrestricted free agent and hopes the Leafs consider bringing him back again next year.
“I’ve come up and just tried to enjoy myself and have fun,” said Devereaux. “I really relish playing at this level. They have a lot of hard decisions and I’m sure there’s going to be lots of changes.
“I’m just going to have to wait and see like pretty much every other guy in the locker-room.”
Gerber certainly counts himself among that group. He started the season with the Senators and was demoted to AHL Binghamton before Toronto plucked him off waivers last month.
Now he’ll get a taste of free agency unless the Maple Leafs sign him to an extension before July.
Even though he was pleased to end the season on a high note, Gerber didn’t feel like he had anything to prove to the Senators and GM Bryan Murray.
“It’s not really my concern,” he said. “They do what they do. I moved on and there’s no thoughts about that.”
Niklas Hagman had the other two goals for the Maple Leafs (34-35-13), who finished 12th in the Eastern Conference for the second straight year.
Jason Spezza and Chris Kelly replied for the Senators (36-35-11).
Ottawa fell in a big hole early in the season and was never able to get totally out of it. Despite that and a loss to end the year, there are still some positives after a stronger second half.
“Any time you lose it’s disappointing,” said coach Cory Clouston. “But overall, I’m not disappointed in this group.”
With both teams long out of playoff contention, this was no true Battle of Ontario. The only noteworthy result would have come if the Leafs lost in regulation because they would have been left with an outside shot at landing the No. 1 draft pick in June.
Devereaux and Hagman made sure that didn’t happen.
The game was tied 2-2 early in the third period when Hagman put the Maple Leafs ahead for good by beating Brian Elliott from the slot.
A late power play gave Ottawa a chance for the equalizer, but Devereaux swooped in while short-handed and roofed a backhander to complete his hat trick.
“Backhand shelf isn’t probably my go-to but it seemed to trick him,” he said. “It felt good.”
A few hats were thrown on the ice while teammate Matt Stajan retrieved the puck. Every player on the Maple Leafs bench stood and applauded as Devereaux skated back.
“It’s a huge game for him to have a hat trick,” said coach Ron Wilson. “Probably the thrill of his lifetime. He’s worked really hard and you couldn’t be happier for a guy to get a hat trick in the last game of the season.
“It was fun.”
Gerber was rolling along at the other end and might have had a shutout if not for a couple gaffes behind his own goal.
Spezza stole the puck directly from the Leafs goalie before scoring his 32nd of the season midway through the second period. A couple minutes later, Gerber saw his pass to defenceman Ian White wind up on Kelly’s stick and into the back of the net.
Neither of those plays put a damper on his evening.
“It was probably more exciting than everybody thought it was going to be,” said Gerber. “It was well fought to the end. We’re happy to come out on the good end.”
That much was clear as the Leaf players took off their equipment for the final time this season.
After all, a win is still a win for the players in uniform.
“(These games) are meaningless in the standings but they’re never meaningless to the guys that have to go on the ice and perform,” said Wilson.
Notes: Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson sat out with a bad back … AHL callup Tim Stapleton suited up for the Leafs while Nikolai Kulemin (foot) and Jeff Hamilton (healthy) sat out … The Leafs honoured Brian Kilrea with a video tribute following his retirement as coach of the Ottawa 67’s … Announced attendance was 19,370.