Tucker’s second goal of the game 3:11 into overtime lifted the Maple Leafs to a 4-3 win, a thrilling comeback that won’t be forgotten if Toronto makes the playoffs.
“It’s our biggest two points of the season,” Tucker said. “I don’t want to give you cliches, but that’s what it comes down to.
“It could be one of the turning points of the season.”
Tucker smiled when asked about the fist pump, which he first pointed affectionately towards the Air Canada Centre fans following a 2-1 overtime win in Game 6 of a 2003 playoff series against Philadelphia.
“It’s exciting, our fans deserve for us to play that hard every night,” Tucker said in explaining his emotional reaction. “We left it all out there tonight.”
The Leafs erased a pair of two-goal deficits to earn two huge points and keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, moving into a tie for the eighth and final playoff spot with Carolina at 75 points, one point ahead of Montreal and the New York Rangers.
Nik Antropov and Boyd Devereaux had third-period goals for the Leafs (33-27-9), who deserved the victory after outshooting the visitors 45-22 and clearly outchancing them.
But Emery was fantastic, losing for only the first time this season after facing 40 or more shots (6-0-1).
Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher and Dany Heatley scored for the Senators (39-23-7), who still won the season series 5-1-2, taking Thursday’s game 5-1 in Ottawa.
“We knew these two games were big for them and getting three out of four points is big for us, too,” Alfredsson said.
Alfredsson opened the scoring at 14:06 of the first period, slipping in a rebound after the Leafs had enjoyed most of the scoring chances. The Senators captain then set up Fisher for pretty power-play goal 8:01 in the second period, Fisher beating Andrew Raycroft with a one-timer from the slot.
Tucker got his team back into the game with Toronto on a two-man advantage, finishing off a cross-ice pass from Sundin from his usual spot.
Heatley, short-handed, quieted the crowd of 19,527 with a one-time blast from the top of the faceoff circle after a clean faceoff win by Jason Spezza over John Pohl. But what would have normally been a back-breaking goal with only 55 seconds in the middle period was not.
“That goal could have deflated us, but the way we were playing I think still gave us momentum heading into the third period,” said Tucker. “We weren’t sitting back, we were playing pretty good hockey at that point even thought it was 3-1.”
The Leafs were outshooting Ottawa 30-17 through 40 minutes and outchanced the Sens 12-4 in the second period but somehow were down 3-1.
“I don’t think our game was indicative of the score,” Tucker said. “I thought that we controlled the play, we hit, we moved the puck, we drew penalties – we did everything that we wanted to do as a team, and we’re down 3-1. We came in here (the dressing room) and we said, ‘Guys, we have an opportunity to come back here. There’s no reason why we can’t come back in the third period.”‘
Come back they did, continuing to hustle in the third period before Devereaux broke through at 9:09, his wrist shot beating Emery through a screen.
Then Antropov tied it on a strange goal with 4:02 left in third period, somehow knocking in his own rebound past Emery, setting up Tucker’s overtime heroics.
“All that we wanted was the two points . . . I could feel it on the bench going into overtime, that sense of urgency,” Tucker said.
The game marked the return of Leafs forward Kyle Wellwood, who missed 33 games with a sports hernia.
Notes: The goal extended Heatley’s point streak to 14 games. . . . Forward Patrick Eaves (sore ankle) couldn’t go for Ottawa while defenceman Lawrence Nycholat and tough guy Brian McGrattan were healthy scratches. . . . Defenceman Tomas Kaberle (concussion) was out again for Toronto while defenceman Wade Belak and forwards Travis Green and Yanic Perreault were also left behind. Perreault has a nagging, undisclosed injury. . . . The Senators next play Tuesday at New York against the Rangers, host the other New York team, the Islanders, on Thursday and are home to Philadelphia next Saturday. . . . The Leafs host Tampa Bay on Tuesday before hitting the road for games Friday at Washington and next Saturday at Montreal.