April 16, 2006 by Joseph Krohn
Needing a win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, the Leafs rode a four-goal second period to a 5-1 win over the Senators Saturday night in Toronto. But soon after the game, the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime to knock the Leafs out of playoff contention. “It’s heartbreaking to find out it’s not going to happen,” Leafs winger Darcy Tucker said. “You live to the play in the playoffs. Besides having children and a family there is nothing better in life than winning hockey games in the playoffs. It’s like having your heart ripped out.” Tomas Kaberle, Matt Stajan and Mats Sundin scored on the power play for Toronto, while Chad Kilger and Nik Antropov chipped in with even-strength goals.
Dany Heatley tallied his team-record 49th goal for Ottawa, which fell to 1-4-2 in its last seven games despite having forward Martin Havlat back in the lineup for the first time since he injured his right shoulder on Nov. 29. Jean-Sebastien Aubin made 30 saves for the Leafs to improve his record to 8-0-2 on the season. The victory was the Leafs’ first in eight tries against the Senators this season and briefly moved Toronto to within two points of the eighth-place Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference standings. However, minutes after the game, Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis scored with 11 seconds remaining in overtime to lift the Lightning over the Hurricanes and move them back to four points ahead of the Leafs.
Tampa’s win eliminated Toronto from playoff contention because it gave the Lightning three more wins (the first tiebreaking criterion) than the Leafs, who have two regular-season games remaining. Toronto, 8-0-2 in its last 10 games as it tried unsuccessfully to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time since 1998, will visit Buffalo on Sunday and host Pittsburgh on Tuesday for its final two games of the regular season. Sundin, who also notched an assist Saturday and is riding an 11-game point scoring streak during which he has racked up 12 goals and nine assists, said the team’s late stretch of strong play was no consolation. “Even though we’ve been playing good there is no one else to blame but ourselves,” he said. “We started playing like this too late.” It will be the first time in coach Pat Quinn’s seven-year tenure that the Leafs will not participate in the playoffs. “I’m real proud of them. They kept fighting,” Quinn said. “But we are the makers of our own destiny.” Ottawa, which has clinched the Northeast division title, trails Carolina by one point for top spot in the East. The Senators, who wrap up the regular season on Tuesday when they visit the New York Rangers, can finish no worse than second in the conference.
The Leafs jumped on the Senators early in Saturday’s game. With Ottawa forward Peter Schaefer in the box for interference, Kaberle beat Senators goalie Ray Emery with a high slap shot from the point 1:01 into the first period to put Toronto up 1-0. Toronto scored another power-play goal to go up 2-0 a little under six minutes into the second. The Leafs passed the puck around the perimeter of the Senators’ zone before it came to Stajan, who one-timed it past Emery from his position near the bottom of the face-off circle to Emery’s left. It was Stajan’s seventh goal in his last 10 games. Ottawa came alive towards the end of the second period, generating a flurry of scoring chances while Leafs defenceman Luke Richardson was in the penalty box for hooking, but could not beat Aubin.
After withstanding the Ottawa onslaught, Toronto blew the game open near the end of the second with goals by Kilger, Sundin and Antropov 2:31 apart to go up 5-0. The Senators ended Aubin’s bid for his second shutout of the season about six minutes into the third period. Daniel Alfredsson picked up the puck along the right-wing boards in the Toronto zone and fed it through the crease to Heatley, who tapped it in to a gaping net.