OTTAWA – It wasn’t the most meaningful game the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs have played over the years, but it was entertaining.
The Leafs beat the Senators 2-1 Saturday night as Phil Kessel scored in regulation and in the shootout and Jonas Gustavsson stopped 22 shots.
Pascal Leclaire, playing a full 60 minutes for the first time since Jan. 10, was solid for the Senators, who were playing with a lineup full of players battling the flu. Leclaire faced 31 shots.
The Senators were without captain Daniel Alfredsson and Peter Regin, the latest victims of the flu bug. While many were still experiencing symptoms, they opted to play, although some were forced to leave the bench during play.
“Things are pretty bad in there,” said Ottawa’s Jason Spezza. “It’s just a matter of degrees of how bad guys are feeling, but no excuses. We still wanted to win the game, but it’s nice to get a point.”
While the provincial rivalry has lost some of its bitterness over the last couple of years, the two teams more than made up for it on this night.
“With all the scrums and the fights and just the hard checking game and low scoring it was a great game for the fans,” said Toronto’s Tyler Bozak. “They were pretty loud both ways and it was just an awesome experience.”
The game was slow to get started as neither team seemed to create any momentum, but a hit by Chris Neil on John Mitchell at the 14-minute mark seemed to spark both teams. Mitchell left the game and didn’t return.
“We had a couple guys get knocked out of the game,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “Our team rather than shrink away stood up and played physical and it was a great effort by everybody.”
From that point on tempers grew short and scrums broke out after nearly every whistle.
The Senators managed to come out on top after one of those scrums with a power play and made the most of it as Neil scored on a Jason Spezza rebound to give Ottawa a 1-0 lead.
One of those scrums resulted in the match-up of Toronto’s Colton Orr and Ottawa’s Matt Carkner. The two had fought in every game prior to this one and the rematch was anticipated. Orr came out on the winning end and let everyone know it as he held up three fingers on his way to the penalty box.
“(Jarkko) Ruutu was saying it’s for three shifts a game or what,” said Carkner. “He wants to chirp and be like that that’s fine. I can deal with that later.”
Orr said there was nothing personal and it was just something that happened in the heat of the moment.
Already down a player, the Leafs then lost the services of Fredrik Sjostrom early in the second as he injured his left arm. The Senators gained a body as Zack Smith arrived from Binghamton in time to start the second.
Kessel managed to tie the game in the second as he beat Pascal Leclaire, who got the start after being pulled after allowing two goals in Thursday’s game, through the legs at the seven-minute mark of the period.
“Last game was a little short and I wasn’t happy about it,” said Leclaire. “I just wanted to be solid and give my team a chance to win. I wasn’t worried about big saves, I just wanted to have a solid game and I think I did that.”
Leclaire was solid for the Senators in the third as the Leafs had three power-play opportunities, including a 24-second two-man advantage. Toronto was 0-for-6 with the man advantage.
“He kept us in the game,” said Carkner. “Hopefully a game like this can get his confidence back up because he did play really well for us.”
It was six years ago that a similar virus hit the Senators in a home game against the Leafs where they’d taken a 4-0 lead. By game’s end, only a few players remained on the Ottawa bench and the Leafs went on to win 5-4 in overtime.
Notes: The Senators were without LW Nick Foligno (broken leg, three weeks), D Filip Kuba (lower body, day-to-day), D Chris Campoli (lower body, three weeks). … Toronto was without D Mike Van Ryn (knee, season), D Mike Komisarek (shoulder, season), C Mikhail Grabovski (wrist, one week). … Prior to the start of the game the Senators put together a video montage from the Olympics and had gold medal dance skaters Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue, as well as Jennifer Botterill, gold medal winner with the women’s hockey team, on hand.