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Maple Leafs secure first playoff trip since '04

The SportsXchange

OTTAWA -- After nine long years, the Toronto Maple Leafs are no longer the answer to an embarrassing trivia question.

Led by the 49-save goaltending of James Reimer, the Leafs sewed up a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2004 when they defeated the Ottawa Senators 4-1 on Saturday night at Scotiabank Place.

Before doing so, they were the only team not to visit the postseason tournament since then.

"I use the word respect," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "I think the (Leafs) fans have been die-hards. There's a huge market, it's a brand that's worldwide and across Canada.

"It's one of those things that for a period of time there's been a lot of sand kicked in the faces of the people of Toronto. Hopefully, this gives them something to stand up and cheer for."

There were a lot of cheers for Reimer among the many members of Leafs Nation in the crowd of 20,500. The 25-year-old goaltender was especially superb in the scoreless first period, stopping all 18 shots he faced while his teammates managed just five on Ottawa's Craig Anderson.

Reimer also blocked 16 of 17 shots in the second period -- giving up only a last-minute goal to Senators rookie Jakub Silfverberg -- after James van Riemsdyk scored two goals 4:02 apart to put the visitors in the lead.

Late third-period goals by Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul effectively ended any hopes of a Senators comeback.

The Leafs tested Anderson only 22 times.

"Fifty shots, 27 blocked, 13 missed the net ... we had the puck a lot of the night," Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said. "Obviously, Reimer must be the Vezina Trophy winner and the Hart Trophy winner. He gets our vote because every time we play him he stops every puck we get there."

Not quite, but almost. Reimer has a career record of 8-1-1 against the Senators. He had a 31- save shutout in his last visit to Ottawa on March 30 and also beat the Senators in the only other meeting between the teams, a 5-4 Toronto victory on March 6 at the Air Canada Centre.

Ottawa's winning streak was stopped at four games and the Senators dropped to seventh in the Eastern Conference standings. They are three points up on the ninth-place Winnipeg Jets and have a game in hand.

"When you have 50 shots, you expect to score more than one goal, but I guess they weren't quality scoring chances," Senators center Zack Smith said. "Maybe there were too many shots from the perimeter and we weren't getting the second chances or rebounds, but Reimer did play well. You can't take that away from him.

"That was a tough one. Going into it, it felt like the biggest game of the year so it makes for a tough loss."

The Leafs, who are in fifth place, still have shot at home ice advantage in the playoffs. They sit just two points behind fourth-place Boston.

"It's nice to be in the playoffs now," Toronto winger Phil Kessel said. "We battled hard this year to get there. We're happy as a group but we're not done yet. We've got a lot of games to play still, and we've got to keep going."

NOTES: Declared done for the season after surgery to repair an Achilles' tendon sliced by the skate of Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke on Feb. 13, Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson has been given clearance to participate in-full contact practices. The defending Norris Trophy winner looked as good as new at Saturday's morning skate and should return to the lineup next week ... Toronto's Dion Phaneuf had a goal called back in the first period when it was ruled teammate Leo Komarov bumped into Anderson just before the puck entered the net ... Guillaume Latendresse was a healthy scratch for the first time this season, as MacLean wanted to get Matt Kassian in the lineup to counter the Leafs' toughness. Latendresse, who is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer, has six goals and 10 points in 24 games this season. Kassian scored a decisive victory in a first-period scrap with Toronto tough-guy Frazer McLaren.
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