OTTAWA — Josh Norris scored nine seconds into overtime as the Ottawa Senators concluded their pandemic-shortened season with a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.
Parker Kelly scored in his NHL debut for Ottawa (23-28-5), while Connor Brown, with his league-leading fifth short-handed goal of 2021, and Nikita Zaitsev provided the rest of the offence. Filip Gustavsson stopped 30 shots, while Zaitsev added an assist for a two-point performance.
Auston Matthews replied with his NHL-best 41st goal of the season for Toronto (35-13-7), while Jake Muzzin, with a goal and an assist, and John Tavares also scored. Frederik Andersen made 24 saves in his return to the lineup following an eight-week injury absence for the North Division’s No. 1 seed.
Toronto star Mitch Marner turned the puck over off the faceoff to start overtime to Brady Tkachuk, who in turn fed Norris to bag his 17th.
The Leafs close out their regular-season schedule Friday in Winnipeg against the Jets before opening the playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens next week — the first post-season meeting between the Original Six rivals since 1979.
Andersen played in the NHL for the first time since March 19 because of an injury “around” one of his knees that cost him 23 games. The 31-year-old made two AHL appearances as part of a conditioning stint to get back up to speed.
Ottawa dropped a 6-1 decision to the Flames in Calgary on Sunday, but improved to 10-3-1 over its last 14 contests to wrap up a promising run looking ahead to the 2021-22 campaign.
The rebuilding Senators started the 56-game season a dismal 2-12-1 thanks in large part to some horrendous goaltending, but went 21-16-4 — good for third in the North over that span — after the crease situation improved and the organization handed its young core increased responsibility.
Despite having a fairly quite night, Matthews tied the game for Toronto with 2:40 left in the third period when he buried his 41st of the campaign before Norris won it.
The home side opened the scoring with 68 seconds left in Wednesday’s first period when Zaitsev’s shot from long range found its way through a screen and off Andersen’s far post for the former Toronto blue-liner’s fourth.
The Leafs, who clinched first in the division on Saturday, got even at 6:01 of the second when Muzzin’s one-timer chimed in off iron for his fourth, and just the visitors’ fifth power-play goal since March 11.
Marner hit the crossbar on a short-handed chance, but Brown — another former Leaf — was able to find the range later in the period with Ottawa killing a penalty when he scored his 21st with Andersen and Matthews scrambling to keep the puck from dribbling over the goal line at 9:07.
Kelly then opened his NHL account at 12:12 when he banked a shot off Andersen moments after getting rocked along the boards. The undrafted free-agent forward, who played four seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders before signing with Ottawa in 2017, became the sixth Senators rookie to score his first NHL goal in 2021.
The Leafs got back within one with 3:31 left in the second when Tavares took a pass from Nylander, who extended his point streak to eight games, and beat Gustavsson for his 19th of the campaign.
Notes: Tavares played his 200th game for the Leafs. … Toronto winger Nick Foligno returned to action after missing two games with an upper-body injury. … Leafs forwards Zach Hyman and Riley Nash, who are both coming back from injury, didn’t play against the Senators, but project to be ready for the start of the playoffs.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2021.
The Canadian Press