Leafs host Senators in season finale

By Anthony Giornalista
Stats Senior Writer

Ottawa (36-34-11) at Toronto (33-35-13), 7:00 p.m. EDT

TORONTO (AP) — The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a playoff drought
that is unprecedented in their history. Under Cory Clouston,
the Ottawa Senators’ play down the stretch suggests a postseason
return next year is very possible.

Having improved since Clouston took over as coach, the Senators
look to end their subpar season with a win when they face the
Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

While Toronto (33-35-13) – one of the league’s “Original Six”
teams – will miss the playoffs for a franchise-record fourth
straight season, Ottawa’s run of 11 consecutive postseason
appearances will come to an end.

The Senators (36-34-11), though, have changed their fortunes
since Clouston was brought up from Binghamton of the American
Hockey League to take over after Craig Hartsburg was fired
February 2. Ottawa is 19-10-4 under Clouston, who became the
team’s coach on a full-time basis after signing a two-year
contract Wednesday.

Though it will finish in 11th place in the Eastern Conference,
Ottawa has plenty to look forward to heading into next season.

“We showed a lot of character battling back,” Senators winger
Jesse Winchester said.

Ottawa won a franchise-record nine straight home games before
losing, 3-2, to New Jersey in a shootout on Thursday night. The
Senators played the Atlantic Division champion Devils tough
after beating conference champ Boston and playoff-bound
Philadelphia in their previous two home games.

Ottawa’s winning streak at home included a 2-1 win over Toronto
on March 9.

Dany Heatley, who had a goal for the Senators in that contest,
needs one more to reach 40 for the fourth straight season. The
All-Star winger has four goals in his last three games.

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He’ll be facing a Maple Leafs team that has allowed a
league-worst 284 goals. Toronto, the only team that will finish
behind Ottawa in the Northeast Division, has given up 30 goals
in its last seven home games, going 3-4-0.

The Maple Leafs have been plagued by inconsistent goaltending
all season. On Wednesday night, Curtis Joseph suffered his NHL
record-tying 452nd loss as Toronto fell, 3-1, to Buffalo.

Joseph is tied with the late Gump Worsley for the most losses in
league history.

Joseph, fourth on the career victory list with 454, won’t be in
net Saturday. Martin Gerber, claimed off waivers from Ottawa on
March 4, is expected to start in place of the 41-year-old

Gerber struggled in the playoffs last season as Ottawa was swept
by Pittsburgh in the first round. He hopes to return to Toronto
next season to back up Vesa Toskala, who has been out since
early March due to groin and hip injuries.

“Overall, playing here was really a great experience,” Gerber
told the Maple Leafs’ official web site. “I think things are
going in the right direction.”

Gerber is 5-5-0 with a 3.34 goals-against average in 11 games
with Toronto. He’s 2-3-0 with a 3.01 GAA in five games versus
the Senators.

The Maple Leafs have lost their last two home games, getting
held to a total of three goals, but have won both matchups
versus Ottawa in Toronto this season and scored three in each.
The Leafs lead the season series, 3-1-1.