TORONTO – The next chapter of the Ottawa Senators’ incredible story is a matchup against the rival Montreal Canadiens.
The Canadiens beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in a shootout Saturday night at Air Canada Centre to clinch the Atlantic Division title and the second overall seed in the Eastern Conference. That, combined with a victory by the Detroit Red Wings, set the playoff picture with the Habs opening up against the Senators.
Ottawa went 23-4-4 in its final 31 games to charge from 14 points out to a playoff spot. Asked earlier Saturday about facing the Senators, Montreal’s P.K. Subban said: “You’ve still got to go through everyone to win the Cup. It doesn’t matter to me.”
Montreal went 1-3-0 in four games against the Senators this season. Ottawa won the intense 2013 playoff series between the teams.
The Tampa Bay Lightning will face the Detroit Red Wings in the other Atlantic Division semifinal. A victory by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who will face the top-seeded New York Rangers, eliminated the Boston Bruins a year after winning the Presidents’ Trophy.
The Washington Capitals face the New York Islanders in the other Metropolitan Division series.
David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec and Jacob De La Rose scored for the Canadiens (50-22-10), who got 19 saves from likely Vezina Trophy-winner Carey Price. Alex Galchenyuk and Desharnais scored in the shootout.
Phil Kessel, Casey Bailey and Tyler Bozak scored for Toronto (30-44-8), ending a season that will prompt plenty of changes in the coming days, weeks and months. Jonathan Bernier stopped 30 of the 33 shots he faced.
Things didn’t get off to a great start for the Habs on Saturday night. Just 3:58 in, Kessel’s wraparound effort got between Price and the post to give the winger his 25th goal of the season and the Leafs a 1-0 lead.
Sixteen seconds later, Montreal tied the score game when Nazem Kadri gave the puck right to Desharnais in the slot. Desharnais beat an unprepared Bernier.
At 14:04 of the first, Bailey scored his first NHL goal by deflecting captain Dion Phaneuf’s point shot by Price. It was the first point, too, for the free agent out of Penn State University in his sixth game with the Leafs.
Less than a minute into the second period, the Habs tied it again on a tic-tac-toe play on the rush. Devante Smith-Pelly got the puck to Andrei Markov, and Markov fed Plekanec, who hit the 60-point mark with his 26th goal of the season.
Bozak restored the Leafs’ lead at 5:11 on a pass from James van Riemsdyk, but the Habs made it 3-3 with 8.9 seconds left before the second intermission. Bernier’s back-handed pass handcuffed Jake Gardiner, and the defencemen put the puck right on De La Rose’s stick for an easy goal.
The Habs thought they had the lead in the third on a power-play goal by Brendan Gallagher, but officials conferred and ruled it incidental contact and disallowed it.
Holding on to force overtime was enough to get Montreal the Atlantic Division title and home ice for the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Notes – Leafs defenceman Eric Brewer left the game after taking a low hit from Alexei Emelin and did not return. The 35-year-old is set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and his future is uncertain.