Leafs win ugly on a blown non-call

Nazem Kadri #43 of the Toronto Maple Leafs gets set to lay a heavy stick on Kyle Turris #7 of the Ottawa Senators during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on February 1, 2014 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Senators 6-3. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

TORONTO – If the Battle of Ontario rivalry needed a spark to generate a fire, it ignited here on Saturday on a single sequence behind the Senators net.

Late in the second period, with rookie defenceman Cody Ceci facing the end boards controlling the puck, Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri slammed Ceci into the wall, escaped a penalty and stole the puck to feed Joffrey Lupul for the game-tying goal. The Senators pounded on Kadri and screamed their frustration at referee Greg Devorski in his 1,500th game, but to no end.

No boarding call. No checking from behind.

And a game that the Senators had controlled 2-0 through the first 34 minutes, was ultimately seized by the enemy, 6-3, with most of the damage coming off the stick of Sens-killer Phil Kessel and his hat-trick.

Phil Kessel ripped a third period wrist shot past the glove hand of Craig Anderson to give the home side a 3-2 lead, and even that wasn’t enough. It was Kessel’s 29th goal of the season.

Who would have imagined Chris Neil would get that one back, and not know it until he was sitting on the player’s bench, a replay proving that his jam play leaked through Jonathan Bernier for the tying goal.

What a night. As usual, a one-goal game, as were 14 of the previous 21 matchups between these two.

Kessel, with his third of the game and 30th of the season, decided it, chipping in a shot from out front after Eric Gryba turned the puck over behind his net. A late goal by Tyler Bozak in the final two minutes sealed the deal.

In a cruel twist of fate, Kadri added an empty-net goal to end a game that will be talked about for ages.

On a redirect of a James van Riemsdyk pass at 13:01 of the second period, Kessel had brought the Leafs back into a game they had snoozed through for the most part. A little more than a minute later, Kadri slammed Ceci and all hell broke loose.

Colin Greening had given the Senators a 2-0 lead off a gorgeous feed from Neil – a soft pass from the tough guy. A brilliant game by Neil, lost in the circumstances.

In the first period, the Leafs and Senators played so cautiously and strategically the event could have been billed the Chess Match of Ontario.
“We’re going to play our boring game,” forward Clarke MacArthur had predicted, accurately.

There was more room on the Gardiner Expressway than in the scoring zones of the ACC. More than half way through the period, Ottawa held a 6-4 lead in shots as forwards and defencemen blocked as many shots as the goaltenders.

As the period wound down, Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly wished he hadn’t touched a Chris Neil flip shot that hit Rielly and changed direction before sneaking past goaltender Bernier for the game’s first goal.

That it came with just 52.6 seconds remaining on the period clock meant the Senators went to visitors dressing room delighted, while the home was frustrated at having nothing to show for two power play opportunities, and a third man advantage that carried over to the second period.

GAME FILE

WHY THEY LOST
Because a game can turn on a single sequence. One blown call, in this case.

CHEERS
To a three-point game by Chris Neil, who pumped his goal total to eight on the season with two goals, his fourth career multi-goal performance. A veteran of B of O wars comes through in the clutch.

JEERS
To the non-call on Kadri. Referees missed the play, a mistake so significant it brings back the case in favour of an NFL-style coaching challenge. If head coach Paul MacLean had the opportunity to challenge the non-call and let officials see the replay, the Leafs would have lost a goal and the Senators would have gone on the power play.

TIGER TALE
Former Maple Leafs tough guy Tiger Williams made a strong impression, playfully punching Zack Smith at the morning skate before chatting with Senators head coach Paul MacLean, who played against Tiger in the 1980s. As for Smith, who has a cabin in Saskatchewan next door to the all-time NHL penalty king (3,966 career PIMs) could he handle Tiger in a fight? “No,” Smith said. “He’s got that old man strength. He’s still a pretty aggressive, old guy.” Williams turns 60 on Monday. Saturday, Tiger was awarded the Distinguished Service Medallion for his overseas work on behalf of the Canadian Armed Forces.

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