Despite playing the 30th placed Maple Leafs, the Ottawa Senators knew earning two points in Dion Phaneuf's return to Toronto would be tough.
The Sens, clinging to their slim playoff hopes, needed a goal from Zack Smith at 17:45 of the third period to squeeze out a 3-2 victory on Saturday.
Mark Stone capitalized on a Martin Marincin turnover and fed Smith, who re-directed the pass past Jonathan Bernier for his 17th of the season.
"That's hockey this time of year. You're not going to dominate games this time of year," said Sens' coach Dave Cameron. "We got a little stubborn in the second and didn't have a good push back but played a real good third period and a huge two points for us."
Ottawa (31-28-7) entered Saturday's action 12th in the Eastern Conference, seven points out of the final wild card spot.
"Big points for us tonight," Phaneuf said. "We seemed to keep coming. We said this morning that they were going to come. They've got a lot of youth in their lineup, a lot of energy, and they showed it tonight."
Bobby Ryan and Marc Methot had the other goals for Ottawa, while Andrew Hammond earned his fourth win of the season making 41 saves.
Rookies William Nylander and Nikita Soshnikov responded for the Leafs (21-33-10). Bernier stopped 28 shots in the loss.
Phaneuf, who spent parts of seven seasons in Toronto, was honoured with a video tribute during the first television timeout in the first period.
Moments after the Phaneuf video tribute, the former Leafs captain and Coin Greening, traded for one another on Feb. 9, dropped the gloves.
"I kind of cross checked him, words were exchanged and we kind of dealt with it on the ice," said Greening, who spent parts of six seasons in Ottawa. "We were up 2-1 going into the third period. I thought we were playing really, really well, and give Ottawa a lot of credit, they really pressed in the third."
Senators forward Mike Hoffman, who leads Ottawa with 25 goals this season, did not play a shift in the third period.
"Ice time is always distributed with what I think gives us the best chance to win," Cameron said of the decision to bench Hoffman.
Toronto led 2-1 after 40 minutes on Soshnikov's second of the season, but the Sens replied early in the third.
Methot tied the game 2-2 at 2:56 of the third picking up the rebound off of Ryan Dzingel's shot and beating a screened Bernier for his fourth of the season.
Soshnikov gave Toronto a 2-1 lead, on a power play, at 12:10 of the second beating Hammond short side for his second of the season.
Ryan opened the scoring, beating Bernier high glove side from the slot at 6:06 of the first after Matt Hunwick mishandled the loose puck off a Nazem Kadri faceoff win.
Nylander tied it 1-1 at 9:27 of the opening period picking up the loose puck off a scrambled faceoff win by Brooks Laich, beating Hammond blocker-side for his first career NHL goal. The assist was Laich's first since being acquired by the Leafs on Feb. 28.
"It was just a good job from Laich and I was able to go in and put it in blocker side," said Nylander, who was playing in his fourth career game. "I got a lot of time there so it was nice."
Laich also assisted on Michael Nylander's final NHL goal on April 5, 2009, a 6-4 Washington Capitals victory over the Atlanta Thrashers.