OTTAWA — The Maple Leafs need seeding more than 60 goals from Auston Matthews.
So, on a night they started slow against another non-playoff team, they were grateful to get a 5-4 overtime win with the finish line getting closer in the Eastern Conference. With 104, they stayed four points ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning — who beat Winnipeg 7-4 — to hold home ice with seven games to play.
Auston Matthews was going full bore, other than he and the power play looking ineffective on two early chances that would’ve established momentum in a rink full of Leafs fans ready again to celebrate his 60-goal milestone. But it’s the third game where he’s been blanked in since reaching 58. The Leafs fired 40 shots at Anton Forsberg, with video review needed to confirm an Ottawa goal did not go over the line before Mark Giordano’s winner.
The Leafs tied the franchise record of 49 wins in a season.
The Battle of Ontario usually brings out the best in the Sens with their Canadian Tire Cettre wallpapered blue and white. They joined the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres as eliminated clubs who’ve prevented the Leafs from by now clinching home ice in the first round.
“They’ve played us well since I’ve been on this team,” Alex Kerfoot said before the game. “They have a lot of skill up front. A younger team just playing every game down the stretch with nothing to lose and they’re tough to handle. A Saturday game against the Leafs is a big thing for them – and us.”
The Sens survived two early power plays with Auston Matthews on the hunt in his favourite road stop, then pumped two past Erik Kallgren to take a first period lead.
The opener saw TJ Brodie hesitate on an odd man rush with plenty pf passing options, which Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stutzle turned into a perfect 2-on-0. Veteran Michael Del Zotto then got enough traffic from Tkachuk to get a point shot through Kallgren’s stick.
Toronto had to kill a William Nylander minor to start the second period before an unusual scoring combo, Justin Holl off Kyle Clifford parked in front. Ottawa got that back via Dylan Gambrell, but Matthews picked up the secondary assist when Michael Bunting drove the net for his 23rd.
Matthews brought the crowd to its feet a few times on bold rushes through centre or around the Ottawa net with a spinning passes in the slot to trailer. But it was Mitch Marner with the line’s only other goals, burying a nice drop from Brodie. he orchestrated the crowd of Toronto supporters to turn up their volume and was able to do it at the other end on his tying effort from Bunting after an Ilya Lyabushkin miscue gave Stutzle an easy one from the slot.
Kerfoot was not concerned Matthews has not added to his total of late.
“I’m sure he’ll get to 60 at some point, I’m sure he’ll keep getting bigger (totals) as the years progress. He’s a special guy to watch day in and day out. To play on his team is a lot of fun.”