TORONTO – Ah, the Battle of Ontario.
Each chapter with its own twists and turns.
And someone going home feeling ill. This time it was the Senators after blowing a 4-2 lead and falling in the shootout, 5-4 to the Leafs.
Tyler Bozak and Mason Raymond, on a controversial spin move, scored for Toronto while Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek missed.
The shootout loss nevertheless took the shine off James Reimer’s magic against the Senators, as he was knocked out of the net. Ottawa fell to 1-0-1 and the Leafs improved to 3-0.
The Leafs finally defeated Ottawa in a home opener, in six tries. Prior to Saturday’s loss, the Leafs had a record of 0-3-0-2 in five home openers with the Senators as special guests. They two haven’t met in an ACC opener since Oct. 3, 2007, when the Senators won 4-3 in overtime.
The Leafs won three of four meetings last season but in the two previous seasons combined, the clubs each won six and lost six. The Senators carried a 4-3 lead into the third period but a goal by James Van Riemsdyk tied in the third period
“The pressure is on us,” Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle had said. “The pressure is on the home team to put on a show.”
Oddly enough, Carlyle made his Leafs debut at a home opener 37 years ago to the day, at Maple Leaf Gardens. He remembers being a wide-eyed kid from tiny Azilda, On., neary Sudbury, taking it all in. Now, here he was presiding over three rookies, Morgan Rielly, Jamie Devane and Spencer Abbot making their NHL debut in a Toronto opener. (Winger Carter Ashton was expected to play but was a late scratch in favour of tough guy Devane).
The Leafs did put on a show in the early minutes, taking a 1-0 lead on a goal by Mason Raymond, who converted a backhand pass from Dave Bolland at 4:21 of the first period.
That got fans at the ACC excited until, but only three minutes later there was a collective groan as a Kyle Turris shot from the slot leaked through James Reimer to tie the game at 1-1. Turris was the Senators best player, carrying a goal and two assists into the third period.
Turris started the play for the next goal, drifting a shot toward the Leafs net as all hell broke loose. Cody Franson had the puck, but Cory Conacher bumped the Leafs defenceman and jammed a shot past Reimer for the 2-1 Ottawa lead. The third member of the second line, Clarke MacArthur, had a ton of chances but could not find the goal he so badly wanted against his former club.
Concacher’s goal didn’t hold up, as the Leafs closed out the period with the tying goal on a power play. Nazem Kadri had nothing but net after receiving a pass from Raymond.
Remember all those goal-less minutes in Buffalo? Well, that was then.
Spezza scored his first goal as captain of the Senators to give Ottawa a 4-2 lead in the middle of the second period and knocked Reimer out of the game, in favor of Jonathan Bernier. Things were looking great for the visitors but the Leafs scored late, on a Joffrey Lupul goal with 16 seconds remaining to make the third period worth watching.
Coming into the game, Reimer downplayed his flashy
8-1-1 career record against Ottawa , with a 1.69 goals-against and three shutouts in 10 games.
“Honestly, I don’t really have an answer for it,” Reimer said. “I think it’s just a rivalry and you get up for rivalries. Although you try to get up for every game, it just means a little more playing against an opponent like this. They’re fun games to play.”
Really, Reimer said, he’s just been along for the ride.
“Our team has played well against them, and as a goalie you reap the statistical benefit.”
Reimer recalls the game two years ago when he survived, barely, an 11-goal game with Ottawa.
“We won 6-5 (Oct. 8, 2011),” Reimer said. “It’s not like I stood on my head and really helped the team there.”
“There’s games where they’ve lit me up, too. Anything can happen on any given night, whether you’ve won 10 in a row against a team or lost 10 in a row. You take every game as a separate, single game.”
Sounded like an omen for a night that was not going to be kind to him. We wonder if Bernier just took over the right to be called the Leafs No. 1 – for this week, anyway.
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