OTTAWA – For the Toronto Maple Leafs it’s all about keeping the faith.
Kyle Wellwood, Alex Steen, Darcy Tucker, Jiri Tlusty and Matt Stajan each scored as the Leafs kept their playoff hopes alive, beating the Ottawa Senators 5-4 Saturday night in a thrilling match-up.
“We’re showing what keeping the faith can do for a team,” said Steen. “We don’t quit.”
More impressive than the Leafs (35-31-10) six straight road wins, is the fact they’re winning without captain Mats Sundin and Nik Antropov.
“This was a big win for us,” said Stajan. “We’re battling for our lives and with the injuries we have we’re showing what kind of guys we have. We’re not going to give up.”
Vesa Toskala faced 36 shots in his 32nd win of the season.
The Senators (41-27-7), meanwhile, will need to play a lot better if they have any hope of winning their division
Giveaways and turnovers plagued the Senators and never more so than in the third period when the Leafs scored two goals in a span of 41 seconds to take the lead.
“Breakdowns, once in a while you take advantage and when you don’t you lose hockey games,” said Ottawa coach Bryan Murray. “The two goals they got is from passes to two of their guys.”
Daniel Alfredsson, Cory Stillman, Martin Lapointe, Dany Heatley scored for the Senators. Martin Gerber stopped 29 shots.
The Leafs have now won four straight against the Senators, with the two teams meeting for the final time on April 3rd.
Ottawa’s seven remaining games are all against Northeast division rivals and if they have any hope of catching the Montreal Canadiens for first in the division they will need to play a much tighter game.
Alfredsson opened the scoring at the three-minute mark when he caught Toskala out of position.
The Senators dominated the first period outshooting the Leafs 14-9, but Ottawa stepped up its physical play as they outhit Toronto 15-4.
Toronto tied the game on Wellwood’s power-play goal four minutes into the second period and then took the lead when Steen was left all alone in the slot, beating Gerber low glove side at the 12-minute mark.
Ottawa then went on to score three goals in a span of two minutes and 27 seconds, two on the power play.
Stillman tied the game 2-2 as he got two chances at the side of the net, but 58 seconds later the Leafs were caught out of position and Lapointe was left alone to beat Toskala.
Heatley made it 4-2 with his 37th of the season as he took a puck off the back boards and tucked it in at the side of the net. The Leafs salvaged the period, however, scoring with 54 seconds remaining as Tucker scored on a rebound.
The Leafs rode the momentum into the third period and scored two goals in a span of 41 seconds to regain the lead.
Frustration was rampant among the Senators as they watched the two-goal lead disappear. The Senators had not lost in regulation this season when leading after two periods.
“It’s frustrating when you get a two-goal lead and blow it,” said Jason Spezza. “You’ve got to be able to hold on to a lead going into the stretch drive.”
Poor defensive play by the Senators allowed Tlusty to draw out Gerber and beat him on the backhand, and seconds later a bad giveaway cost Ottawa as Stajan scored to make it 5-4.
Ottawa had a power play in the final minutes and pressured to get the tying goal, but Heatley, who fired a shot with seconds left, hit the post just after the whistle.
“Turnovers cost us,” said Mike Fisher. “We’ve got to be a little bit smarter.”
Captain Daniel Alfredsson admitted the team must play smarter with a lead.
“We know we can play better,” he said. “If we want to win down the stretch and in the playoffs we can’t give up goals like that.”
Ottawa lost the services of Chris Kelly near the seven-minute mark as he injured his left foot during a scrum in front of Gerber.
The sellout crowd of 20, 183 seemed to be split evenly, but as the game wore on the Leafs’ faithful grew louder.
With his tenth consecutive start Gerber tied his previous career-high while playing with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Notes: Ottawa RW Chris Neil returned to the lineup C Randy Robitaille and RW Brian McGrattan were a healthy scratch, C Cody Bass (foot, indefinitely)Toronto was without C Mats Sundin (groin, day-to-day),RW Nik Antropov (knee, day-to-day), C John Pohl (Ankle, out indefinitely), D Carlo Colaiacovo (groin, out season), LW Boyd Devereaux (MCL, day-to-day).