Rielly scores winner as Leafs take Battle of Ontario win over Sens
Toronto defenceman reaches career-high 53 points
The fans left happy after a back-and-forth game Mike Babcock deemed "way too entertaining for the coach."
And his team won.
But Ottawa pulled even at 4-4 early in the third on goals by Thomas Chabot and Magnus Paajarvi, with his second of the night, in a stretch of three minutes 19 seconds.
Morgan Rielly scored the winner midway through the third period for a 5-4 win.
"We were playing well and then we just got careless and we never really seemed to be able to get it back," lamented Babcock, who liked his team's start.
"At the same time when you're a good team and you win games, sometimes they're not very pretty but you still won them. So at the end, when we get up [Thursday] in the standings, it's going to look pretty good."
WATCH | Leafs fend off Senators with 5-4 win:
Rielly started the rush after a Sens turnover. After racing up the ice, he passed to Zach Hyman, whose backhand pass found Rielly alone in front of the goal for his 14th of the season at 9:12. It was also Rielly's career-high 53rd point of the season.
"It's a blast playing with him ... He's a great guy to go to battle with every day," said Leafs centre John Tavares.
The Sens piled on the pressure with the goaltender out but could not score.
Toronto (33-17-3) won its third straight and fourth of its last five (4-0-1). While the Senators (19-29-5) suffered their fifth straight loss, they did not look like a team last in the standings.
"It's the NHL," said Matthews. "So it doesn't matter who you're playing on any given night. It doesn't matter what the standings are."
Added Tavares: "They pushed back hard. Give them credit."
Ottawa outshot Toronto 44-30.
"I thought we carried the play for most of the game," said Ottawa coach Guy Boucher. "Just a few puck management turnovers cost us."
WATCH | Muzzin and Andersen team up for spectacular sequence:
Boucher thought his team, up 2-1, should have put the game away in the second period but could not convert good scoring chances.
"That was the moment. When you play a team like that and you've got them on the ropes, that's the moment where you've got to bury them," said Boucher.
The Leafs came into the game flushed with news of Matthews' $58.2 million US, five-year contract extension.
"Welcome home Auston," said one sign in the stands. "Drink$ on you?"
Ottawa has contract questions of its own. Duchene, Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel are all eligible to become unrestricted free agents on July 1.
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk says he is prepared to open his wallet.
According to a club release, Melnyk told a Sens corporate event Tuesday in Toronto that the team's "current rebuild is a blueprint on how to bring the Stanley Cup home to its rightful place in Ottawa."
He pledged the team will spend close to the NHL's salary cap every year from 2021 to 2025.