TORONTO — From the opening faceoff, the Senators were determined to put the battle back into this provincial hockey debate.
The visitors forced the play, tested Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer and engaged in two fights, one of which sickened all who watched.
Just 26 seconds into a game the Leafs would win 5-4, rookie Senators winger Dave Dziurzynski squared off to fight Leafs winger Frazer McLaren and was knocked out cold by a McLaren punch. For several frightening seconds, Dziurzynski lay face down on the ice, motionless.
Finally, as trainer Gerry Townend rushed to his aid, Dziurzynksi stirred to consciousnessness, but was very unsteady as he fought to regain his feet. He was helped off the ice by Townend and Ottawa forwards Chris Neil and Zack Smith.
During the first intermission, the Senators confirmed Dziurzynski suffered a concussion in his first NHL fight and would not return to the game.
A few minutes after that unsettling staged fight, Neil fought Colton Orr.
Despite their early pressure, it was the Senators who gave up the first goal. When he was asked what his team needed to do to improve on a 3-6-2 road record (now 3-7-2), Senators coach Paul had said: “A lead would help.”
In 11 previous road games, only once did the Senators score the game’s first goal. Make it one for 12 roadies, after this latest visit to the Air Canada Centre, where the Senators tried to climb out from an early hole.
On just the third Toronto shot, centre Tyler Bozak chipped a puck up and over Senators goaltender Ben Bishop at 6:24 of the first period to give the Leafs the lead. The puck deflected off Ottawa forward Peter Regin before veering over a sprawling Bishop.
Less than a minute later, the Leafs’ fourth shot on goal also beat Bishop. After winning a couple of puck battles in the Ottawa zone, the Leafs worked the puck to Jay McClement in the high slot. McLement hammered a slap shot under the right arm of Bishop.
The Leafs ran their lead to 3-0 with a James van Riemsdyk goal early in the second period, before Mika Zibanejad finally got Ottawa on the board, knocking home a rebound during a delayed penalty call at 2:48 of the second.
A third-period goal by Smith made it interesting, but goals by Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri built a 5-2 lead. Late goals by Daniel Alfredsson and Colin Greening made for a wild finish, but the Leafs held on.
To the news Jason Spezza has been cleared to increase his workload and could be back in the Senators’ lineup within two to three weeks. Spezza had back surgery on Feb. 1 and was expected to need six to eight weeks to recover. He appears to be on the early side of that forecast.
To an ugly fight that left rookie winger Dave Dziurzynski lying unconscious on the ice.
WHY THEY LOST
The Senators couldn’t muscle up on the boards in a couple of sequences that led to early Toronto goals.
ODE TO STOMPIN’ TOM
When they played the The Hockey Song in the third period, fans at the ACC cheered in salute of Stompin’ Tom Connors, who passed away Wednesday at age 77. The Hockey Song and some 300 other ballads from the Canadian music legend live on.