After an epic collapse led to a major change in their organization, the Toronto Maple Leafs will try to conclude this disappointing season with something positive – a seventh consecutive victory over the rival Ottawa Senators.
The Maple Leafs will also try to deny the Senators a season high-tying fourth straight win in Saturday night’s season finale and first game under new team president Brendan Shanahan.
Toronto was third in the Eastern Conference on March 15 and had a seven-point cushion for a playoff spot, but quickly dropped out of contention with a 2-11-0 stretch that included eight consecutive regulation losses.
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That led to the Maple Leafs bringing in Shanahan, a Toronto native and Hall of Fame player. The former NHL director of player safety started his new job Friday, and it’s unknown what changes he’ll make after Saturday’s game.
The Maple Leafs (38-35-8) were eliminated from contention with a 3-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday. They followed that with a 4-2 defeat to Florida on Thursday, their third in a row.
"Very challenging time right now for our group mentally," coach Randy Carlyle said. "It seems like our morale was down."
Toronto will try to welcome Shanahan by sweeping a season series from Ottawa for the first time since winning two games in 1993-94. The Leafs will also look to avoid a season high-tying seventh consecutive road defeat – all of which have come in regulation.
The Maple Leafs, who went 0-4-3 away from home Nov. 2-30, will face a Senators team that’s refusing to go quietly into the end of its season. Ottawa (35-31-14) earned its third straight win while avoiding a third home loss in a row Thursday, topping New Jersey 2-1 in a shootout.
Mike Hoffman scored in regulation for the Senators and Erik Karlsson had the only one for either team in the tiebreaker.
The victory was Ottawa’s seventh in 10 contests.
"That’s why we play this sport, it’s to win games," Karlsson said. ”Even though we haven’t done it on a regular basis this year like we wanted to, that’s what we’re going to keep playing for no matter where we are in the standings and it feels good to put a couple together."
The Senators had their only four-game win streak of the season Dec. 28-Jan. 4.
Toronto took the first two meetings with Ottawa in shootouts, including a 4-3 victory in its only other visit Dec. 7, and won 6-3 in the latest matchup Feb. 1.
Toronto’s three-game road win streak against the Senators is tied for the longest in the series. The Maple Leafs also won three straight in Ottawa from Nov. 29, 2003-April 3, 2004.
They scored four goals in the third period Feb. 1, with Phil Kessel scoring two of those to complete his fifth career hat trick.
Kessel has matched a career high with 37 goals but has one in his last eight games. He has five goals and seven assists in his past six matchups with Ottawa and a team-best seven points in this season’s series (four goals, three assists).