OTTAWA – The Toronto Maple Leafs did all they could, including recovering after giving up a two-goal lead, to keep playing meaningful games.
Tyler Bozak had a power-play goal 5:42 into the third and Nikolai Kulemin scored late in the period as Toronto preserved its slim playoff hopes with a 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night.
Phil Kessel reached 30 goals for a third year in a row and Nazem Kadri also scored for the Maple Leafs, who remained two points behind Carolina for ninth place in the Eastern Conference.
“We’ve just got to keep winning games,” Bozak said. “We’re focused on winning in our room and we believe we can so we’ve got three big ones coming up.”
Toronto, which has 84 points and three games left to play, closed to three points behind the New York Rangers for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and four behind seventh-place Buffalo, which picked up one point with an overtime loss in Washington.
“Well, Washington managed to pull it out in overtime, so that’s a positive, and Buffalo and Carolina play (Sunday) and we’ve narrowed the gap a little bit on the Rangers so we’ll see what happens,” Toronto coach Ron Wilson said.
James Reimer, who was named the NHL’s rookie of the month on Friday, made 23 saves to record his 20th win. He has been credited with each of Toronto’s last 15 wins.
Jason Spezza scored two goals for Ottawa, his second tying the score 2-2 at 3:03 of the third period.
Bozak restored Toronto’s one-goal lead moments later. He was in the right side of the crease and got credit for his 14th goal when Joffrey Lupul’s shot from the slot struck him on its way past Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson.
“I felt it hit my skate,” Bozak said. “Whoever gets it, we’re just happy for the win. It’s nice to get a good bounce there, though.”
Elsewhere in the NHL it was: Edmonton 4, Vancouver 1; Montreal 3, New Jersey 1; Detroit 4, Nasvhille 3 (OT); Boston 3, Atlanta 2; Carolina 4, N.Y. Islanders 2; Washington 5, Buffalo 4 (OT); Los Angeles 3, Dallas 1; Tampa Bay 3, Minnesota 1; Pittsburgh 4, Florida 2; and San Jose 4, Anaheim 2.
At Ottawa, Anderson finished with 26 saves as the Senators remained tied with Florida for last in the East.
Ottawa centre Jesse Winchester was penalized for high-sticking Clarke MacArthur 40 seconds after Spezza tied it 2-2.
“It was a huge boost for us to get that goal and then I took that penalty,” Winchester said. “It was totally accidental but blatantly obvious, and they made us pay.”
Senators forward Zack Smith was given a boarding major at 11:44 of the third for a hit from behind that sent Maple Leafs defenceman Matt Lashoff flying headfirst into the boards behind the Toronto net.
Kulemin scored his 29th goal at 18:40 to the delight of the thousands of Maple Leafs fans on hand at Scotiabank Place.
Kessel, who had 30 goals last season in his Toronto debut, scored 12:23 in to become the first Maple Leafs player to score 30 in consecutive seasons since former captain Mats Sundin did it four in a row from 2001-02 to 2005-06.
Kessel got past Senators defenceman Filip Kuba and put his own rebound past Anderson 12:23 in to reach 30 goals for a third straight season.
Kadri made it 2-0 with his third goal 4:32 into the second.
Spezza scored on a breakaway with 54.5 seconds left in the second to pull Ottawa to 2-1.
He tied it with his second straight goal—his 19th of the season—when he drove a slapshot past Reimer from the left side for with 10 seconds left in Mikhail Grabovski’s tripping penalty early in the third.
The Ottawa centre looked towards the Maple Leafs’ bench while pumping his fist after the goal.
“To be honest with you I didn’t even see it,” said Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, who was on the bench when Spezza skated past. “If he did that I wonder how he’s feeling right now after we won the game.”
At Vancouver, Kurtis Foster and Jordan Eberle scored power-play goals just over six minutes apart and Devan Dubnyk made 40 saves as Edmonton surprised the Canucks.
Linus Omark and Magnus Paajarvi also scored as the last-place Oilers snapped an 11-game winless streak (0-8-3) by handing the NHL-leading Canucks their first loss in six games.
At Newark, N.J., the Devils will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
Mathieu Darche scored twice, Carey Price made 20 saves and Montreal Canadiens ended the Devils’ run of making the last 13 post-season.
P.K. Subban also scored and former Devils star Brian Gionta set up both of Darche’s goals as the Canadiens inched closer to clinching a playoff berth with their second win in six games.
Danny Cleary tipped in Brian Rafalski’s shot 2:58 into overtime for Detroit’s fourth unanswered goal, leading the Red Wings to a 4-3 win over Nashville on Saturday that clinched their 20th straight playoff berth.
At Boston, Michael Ryder scored on a penalty shot with 7:29 left to break a third-period tie and help the Bruins clinch the Northeast Division title.
At Uniondale, N.Y., Erik Cole snapped a tie 6:04 into the third period for Carolina, which beat the Islanders and moved within one point of eighth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
At Washington, Alex Ovechkin scored 3:19 into overtime, and the Capitals beat Buffalo to take over the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
At Los Angeles, Matt Greene scored the go-ahead goal in the third period to help the Kings move one step closer to a playoff berth.
At St. Paul, Minn., Dwayne Roloson stopped 29 shots against his old team and the Lightning earned their fourth consecutive win.
At Sunrise, Fla., Pittsburgh defenceman Zbynek Michalek scored with 7:49 left and the Penguins handed the Panthers their eighth consecutive loss.
At San Jose, Calif., Devin Setoguchi scored the tiebreaking goal on the power play with 5:21 remaining as the Sharks rallied past Anaheim.