The Toronto Maple Leafs may not be going to the playoffs this season, but they did score a moral victory on Tuesday against their provincial rivals from Ottawa.
Toronto kept the Senators in their post-Olympic funk, taking down Ottawa 4-1 at Scotiabank Place. The Leafs capped the Battle of Ontario for the year with their fourth straight win against the Sens, going 4-2-0 to win the season series.
Phil Kessel scored in the first period, with John Mitchell and Mikhail Grabovski adding to the tally for the Leafs 19 seconds apart in the second. Rickard Wallin added an empty-netter in the last minute of the game, as 12 Leafs notched a point.
"Since we're not in the playoff picture, we really have not got a lot to lose," Mitchell said. "We're a different team [these days] and we didn't want to lose two games in a row the rest of the year — that's something we said."
But the story of the game was in the Leaf net, as Jonas Gustavsson played possibly his best game in a Toronto uniform.
The Swedish rookie was terrific for the Leafs in only his fifth start in the last 14 games, bailing out a Toronto defence that was guilty of turning the puck over all night and making 30 stops.
"When we scored a couple of goals, I could play relaxed," Gustavsson said. "It's a different atmosphere when we play against them and I like it. Those are the kind of games you want to play."
His best save came when he sprawled to stop Milan Michalek on a shorthanded breakaway nine minutes into the third period with the Leafs up by two. Michalek had two breakaways during the game and was stopped by Gustavsson both times.
He was the main reason why Ottawa (37-28-5) stayed in its offensive slump since the Olympics ended, which is Exhibit A when it comes to analyzing the Sens' current woes.
Ottawa has gone 1-5-1 since the Olympics and has been held to one goal or less in all six losses.
"You've got to give Toronto credit, they pushed us hard," said Senators coach Cory Clouston. "But to me, the biggest concern is in the offensive zone. We've just got to start burying our chances."
Though Buffalo, which leads the Northwest Division, remains three points ahead of Ottawa, losing 4-3 in Atlanta, Montreal is charging hard. The Canadiens beat the New York Rangers 3-1 Tuesday and are now one point behind the Sens for second in the division and fifth in the Eastern Conference.
"Obviously, we've got our work cut out for us here," Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "We've got to correct some stuff and figure it out."
The Sabres have gone 3-4-1 since the Olympic break, and hold two games in hand on Ottawa and three on Montreal.
In Ottawa's crease, Brian Elliot made 26 saves.
Andy Sutton scored the Sens' goal late in the second period.
The Sens were missing a big sparkplug Tuesday as Mike Fisher was out of the lineup with an upper body injury.
Amid all the pre-game hype, Toronto's Colton Orr and Ottawa's Matt Carkner didn't tussle for a fifth time this season. But there was still plenty of rough stuff as the game saw seven roughing minors and a fight between the Sens' Chris Neil and the Leafs' Garnet Exelby.
"It was just a good game," Orr said. "A good battle both ways and we came in and did what we had to do. We won."
Ottawa visits Atlanta on Thursday, while the Leafs (24-34-12) host New Jersey.