Senators suffer ‘humbling’ home ice loss to Leafs

It’s beginning to feel like old times at Scotiabank Place. With the spring weather outside screaming “playoff hockey” and the atmosphere inside doing the same — at least until an early goal let some of the air out of the rink — the Toronto Maple Leafs pounded the Ottawa Senators 4-0 in a suddenly relevant Battle of Ontario.

Senators suffer ‘humbling’ home ice loss to Leafs
Colin Greening of the Ottawa Senators shoots on James Reimer of the Toronto Maple Leafs during first period of NHL action at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, March 30, 2013. (Jean Levac/OTTAWA CITIZEN)

It’s beginning to feel like old times at Scotiabank Place.

With the spring weather outside screaming “playoff hockey” and the atmosphere inside doing the same — at least until an early goal let some of the air out of the rink — the Toronto Maple Leafs knocked off the Ottawa Senators 4-0 in a suddenly relevant Battle of Ontario.

Nazem Kadri scored a hat trick and Joffrey Lupul added a goal of his own for the Leafs, who pulled even with the fifth-place Senators at 44 points in the Eastern Conference standings.

James Reimer made 31 saves to run his career record against the Senators to 7-1-1 (including three shutouts), while Ben Bishop allowed four goals on just 23 shots to pick up his first loss in five games.

Barring an historic collapse, both the Senators and Leafs will be in playoff positions when the National Hockey League season wraps Apr. 27. That would be a first since Toronto last qualified in 2004, and it raised the stakes for two teams that will be jockeying for position down the stretch.

And while the final score suggested a blowout, this contest was actually closer than it looked on paper.

The Senators had numerous opportunities to tie the game after Lupul opened the scoring with a tip-in at the 3:03 mark of the first — including a couple hit posts, a breakaway and a goal disallowed by an official’s quick whistle — but couldn’t find a way to beat Reimer.

Their biggest pushback came after Kadri notched his first goal of the night at 12:45 of the second, an easy tap-in after a shot from the blue line bounced off a body in front and landed right on his stick.

Had the Senators been able to cash one of their five power plays, or had Guillaume Latendresse been able to score on his breakaway with 45 seconds remaining in the second period and the score at 2-0, the outcome might have been different.

Alas, things just didn’t go their way Saturday night.

Kadri’s second goal at 2:44 of the third — the result of a bad giveaway by Jacob Silfverberg — essentially put the Senators out of it, and his third at 4:48 added insult to injury.

Bishop clearly believed the Senators deserved a better fate.

“They got a couple bounces there and we had a couple chances to make it a close game there in the second — it could have been 2-2 after two,” he said. “We take a couple chances there in the third, shooting for offence, and they score a couple goals, but it wasn’t overly that bad.”

Coach Paul MacLean agreed the Senators were unlucky at times, but he wasn’t about to make excuses either.

“We had some bounces,” he said. “We had one that was in the net, it was a loose puck just laying there and the whistle went, so it doesn’t count.

“So we had one to get in the net, but if you don’t score, you don’t have any chance of winning,” he continued. “Whether or not Toronto had more puck luck than we did, I mean, I think they actually, at the end of the day, played better than we did and they win.”

He called the home ice loss “a little bit humbling.”

That was the right word for it. After Kadri scored his third goal, the Senators stood at their bench and watched as Leaf fans in the crowd of 20,183 peppered the ice with hats.

Chants of “Kadri, Kadri, Kadri” were popular in the third period, as was the sing-song “this is our house.”

That they weren’t, for once, the empty chants of a long-suffering fanbase watching its team play out the string made it all the more jarring.

The playoff push wasn’t the only closely watched storyline heading into Saturday night’s tilt.

The last time these two teams met — March 6 at the Air Canada Centre — Leafs winger Frazer McLaren knocked Senators youngster Dave Dziurzynski out cold in what turned out to be a very lopsided bout. Dziurzynski suffered a concussion and has since been demoted to Binghamton.

In the aftermath, general manager Bryan Murray set out to find a heavyweight who could do the team’s dirty work, settling on Minnesota’s 6-foot-4, 232-pound Matt Kassian.

Much of the pre-game hype centred around whether or not Kassian and McLaren would drop the gloves — right down to Hockey Night In Canada star Don Cherry’s goading during a special on-ice appearance minutes before puck drop.

After the Senators won the two undercards — Kassian over Colton Orr and Colin Greening (yes, Colin Greening) over Mark Fraser — Kassian and McLaren finally squared off 14:42 mark of the first.

For Senators fans expecting some kind of revenge, the end result was rather unsatisfying.

McLaren made quick work of his opponent and the teams got back to playing hockey.

GAME FILE

WHY THEY LOST

The Senators started slower than the Leafs, but wound up outshooting their opponents 31-23 and missing on several glorious scoring opportunities. The Hockey Gods weren’t in their corner Saturday night.

CHEERS

Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs

The Leafs’ whiz kid continues to light up opponents, adding three more goals and an assist against the Senators. The 22-year-old climbed into sixth place in the NHL’s scoring race (39 points in 36 games) with another big game. Honourable mention to Lupul who, in addition to scoring, assisted on every one of Kadri’s tallies.

JEERS

Jacob Silfverberg, Senators

Despite trailing 2-0 to open the third period, the Senators still had an outside chance at a comeback. It ended with Silfverberg’s atrocious giveaway on Kadri’s second goal.

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