Toronto — The Ottawa Senators came from behind to win Saturday night because they managed to do what Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Paul Maurice has been fruitlessly begging his team to do — have a goaltender steal a win and have the lesser lights step forward to carry the load in place of some injured stars.
Leafs goaltender Andrew Raycroft played one of his best games in recent weeks but it was only good enough for regulation time. In overtime, he let in a weak shot by Senators defenceman Chris Phillips that gave them a 3-2 win, the team’s fourth in a row.
The Leafs were in position to win the game when forward Boyd Devereaux, playing in his second game after a promotion from the farm team because of injuries, scored his first National Hockey League goal since March 14 of last season when he was with the Phoenix Coyotes. That gave them a 2-1 lead with a little more than six minutes left in the third period.
Devereaux’s goal came just after Raycroft robbed Senators winger Dany Heatley and just as Leaf defenceman Brendan Bell stepped on the ice after serving a penalty.
Raycroft, who was not as busy as Ray Emery in handling shots but still faced almost as many scoring chances, snaked out his glove to steal a great chance from Heatley. The Leafs then turned the puck up the ice and Devereaux beat Emery with a long wrist shot at 13:40.
The Leafs, though, are not a team that can stand prosperity. With two minutes and six seconds left in the third period, they let Senators centre Chris Kelly get loose in front of the net and he scored to tie the game.
Kelly is one of those guys who is shouldering more of the burden with the Senators missing their top two centres, Jason Spezza and Mike Fisher, with knee injuries. They lost two more forwards during the game, Antoine Vermette and Peter Schaefer. All head coach Bryan Murray would say is that both players had “lower-body injuries.”
“I think [Emery] made awful big saves at critical times,” Murray said. “Ray was real good. And Chris Kelly plays hard every night.
“The only reason he was playing on the fourth line [before the injuries to Spezza and Fisher] is because of the coaches. He doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.”
Early in the first period, the Leafs broke Emery’s shutout string that had gone into three games. He took two consecutive shutouts into the game. Alexander Steen’s goal ended the string at 149 minutes and 42 seconds, a period in which Emery stopped 70 shots.
“It was great for the guys to pull off a win like we did,” Emery said. “If we can battle through times like this with those key guys out, it will be a lot better we they come back.”
Both teams play again at home on New Year’s Day, with the Senators facing the Atlanta Thrashers and the Leafs meeting the Boston Bruins.
By the end of the first two periods, a 40-minute stretch of tedium, the teams were tied 1-1. The Leafs held a 33-19 edge in shots on goal but the game was so dull it did not seem possible they could have fired that many times at Emery.
The Leafs took the lead near the end of the first period after Vermette clipped Leafs winger Bates Battaglia on the face with his stick. Vermette was given a double-minor penalty for high-sticking at 16:26 and the Leafs produced a goal at 18:54 after some trouble getting their power play moving.
Steen got the goal, moving into the slot and sliding in a pass from Jeff O’Neill. He is relatively on fire, with two goals in his last three games after getting a grand total of two in his first 37.
But such is life with the goal-starved Leafs that Steen is now on the top line with Mats Sundin and O’Neill thanks to all of their injuries. Out of the lineup are forwards Darcy Tucker (bruised foot), Alexei Ponikarovsky (shoulder), Kyle Wellwood (hip flexor/groin), Nik Antropov (ankle), Michael Peca (broken leg) and defenceman Andy Wozniewski (shoulder).
Another player went into the sick bay, defenceman Carlo Coalaicovo. He came down with a bad case of the flu. That allowed Ottawa native Brendan Bell to dress for his first game for the Leafs since Dec. 9.
Things are almost as bad in the Senators dressing room. With Spezza and Fisher out, Kelly is their No. 1 centre.
Throw in the fact both teams played on Friday night and it was no surprise the game was a turkey.
Kelly was the catalyst for the Senators’ first goal, a shorthanded one early in the second period. With Senators winger Brian McGrattan off for tripping, Kelly wound up with a breakaway. Raycroft stopped him, but Dean McAmmond followed the puck to the net and shoveled in the rebound at 5:37 to tie the score 1-1.