Northeast: Senators closing gap on division-leading Bruins

By John-Eric Iannicello

Photo: Rookie goaltender Ben Bishop and his Ottawa Senators teammates briefly held first place in the Northeast but dropped back to second following a loss to the Maple Leafs on Saturday (courtesy of

Jay Kopinski/Icon SMI)

While the gap in points has stayed relatively the same over the past weeks, the Ottawa Senators are inching closer to the top seed in the Northeast division.

A dramatic 2-1 win in overtime over the Montreal Canadiens had the Senators atop the Northeast Division for a day with 84 points. A loss the following night against the 11th-place Toronto Maple Leafs had the Senators back in the seventh spot that they’ve been accustomed to in the last few weeks.

"We’re at that part of the season where everybody’s a little bit tired," defenseman Erik Karlsson told "We had a tough game yesterday (against Montreal) and we didn’t really reach our top level, either, and it’s something we’re going to have to work on if we want to continue to be successful."

After Friday’s contest against the Canadiens, head coach Paul MacLean offered praise to his Senators club, who were predicted by many to finish in the bottom of the standings this season.

"They’ve worked real hard and they’ve believed in themselves for a long time now and I think the consistency of their effort on a daily basis is being rewarded with the success the team is having,” MacLean said to “But, we’ve got 10 games left to play and we have lots of work to do."

With nine games remaining on the schedule, the deciding factor in the standings could come down to the Senators’ second last game of the season, when they host the Boston Bruins on April 5th.

Northeast Division Notes

Boston Bruins – The defending Stanley Cup champions snapped a four-game losing streak on Saturday with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. Tyler Seguin scored his 25th goal of the season, and added a goal in the shootout to help the Bruins snap their recent losing streak. Tim Thomas was between the pipes, stopping 27 of 29 shots. They’ll look to build on their winning ways as they host the Maple Leafs tonight. The Bruins agreed to a two-year contract extension with physical forward Shawn Thornton on Saturday. The 34-year-old was set to become a free agent on July 1st. The deal comes with a reported cap-hit of $1.1 million per season.

Buffalo Sabres – 
The Sabres will continue their Florida road trip looking for a win before heading home on Wednesday to face the Montreal Canadiens. The team is in Tampa Bay tonight for a game against the Lightning, and are coming off a 3-2 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday. Tyler Ennis carried his star performance into the weekend scoring the game’s opening goal a minute into Saturday’s contest. Drew Stafford and Marcus Foligno also continued their red hot play of late: Stafford has six points in his last three games, while Foligno has three in his last two. Defenseman Andrej Sekera returned to the lineup after missing the last five games with pneumonia.

Montreal Canadiens
 Coming off back-to-back losses, the Canadiens are off until Wednesday where they’ll face the Buffalo Sabres in Buffalo. Rookie forward Aaron Palushaj scored his first NHL goal in Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders. Peter Budaj got the start against the Islanders and was excellent in stopping 36 of 38 pucks. He also added an assist on Louis Leblanc’s third period tally. Andrei Markov missed Friday’s game against the Senators with an upper-body injury, but returned on Saturday. Tomas Kaberle and Scott Gomez missed both weekend games with upper-body injuries. Frederic St-Denis was reassigned to Hamilton (AHL) on Saturday. Although they dropped their weekend games, the Canadiens collected points in both. They are still seeded in the 15th position in the Eastern Conference, but are only three points out of 11th.

Ottawa Senators
 A 2-1 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens on Friday had the Senators atop the Northeast Division for a brief period, but a 3-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday had them drop back down to seventh spot with 84 points. Jason Spezza is one goal away from eclipsing the 30-goal mark. He’s scored 30+ goals in three of his eight NHL seasons. Erik Karlsson is the youngest defenseman to hit 70 points in a season since Brian Leetch in 1988-89. The Senators will return to action against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, and then are off until Friday for yet another match-up between the Canadiens.

Toronto Maple Leafs – 
The Maple Leafs continued their winning ways this weekend, beating the Senators 3-1 on Saturday. They sit six points back of eighth place in the Eastern Conference. James Reimer was strong again between the pipes, turning aside 29 of 30 shots. Phil Kessel scored his 35th goal of the season, and added an assist for his 75th point in 72 games. Dion Phaneuf also scored in the contest, giving him 10 goals on the year. Cody Franson was a healthy scratch on the back-end, while Mike Brown remains out indefinitely with a leg injury. The Maple Leafs will travel to Boston tonight for a game against the Bruins, and then will return home for a game against the Islanders on Tuesday.