TORONTO (AP) - Despite playing the lowly Maple Leafs, the Ottawa Senators knew earning two points in Dion Phaneuf’s return to Toronto would be tough.
Zack Smith scored the go-ahead goal with 2:15 remaining and the Senators kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a 3-2 victory Saturday night.
Smith re-directed Mark Stone’s 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,” Senators coach Dave Cameron said. “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 the night 12th in the Eastern Conference, seven points out of the final wild-card spot. The Senators have now won three straight against the Maple Leafs, and avoided a third straight loss overall.
Bobby Ryan and Marc Methot had the other goal for Ottawa, while Andrew Hammond picked up his fourth win of the season by making 41 saves.
“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.”
Phaneuf, who spent parts of seven seasons with the Leafs, was honored with a video tribute during the first TV timeout in the first period. He was dealt to Ottawa on Feb. 9 as part of a nine-player trade. Moments after the video played, the former Leafs captain and Colin Greening - both in the deal - dropped the gloves and fought.
“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.”
Rookies William Nylander and Nikita Soshnikov scored for the Maple Leafs.
Toronto led 2-1 after 40 minutes on Soshnikov’s second of the season, but the Sens replied early in the third.
Methot tied it at 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.
Ryan opened the scoring, beating Bernier high to the glove side from the slot at 6:06 of the first after Matt Hunwick mishandled the loose puck off Nazem Kadri’s faceoff win.
Nylander tied it at 9:27 of the opening period, picking up the loose puck off a scrambled faceoff win by Brooks Laich, beating Hammond to his 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 the final goal for Michael Nylander - father of William Nylander - on April 5, 2009, a 6-4 Washington Capitals victory over the Atlanta Thrashers.
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.
NOTES: Senators F 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. … Senators D Mark Borowiecki missed his first game due to a right knee injury suffered Thursday night. As a result, Patrick Wiercioch returned to Ottawa’s lineup after sitting out five games as a healthy scratch.
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