Toronto Maple Leafs\' Nikolai Kulemin (41) celebrates his goal with teammates Clarke MacArthur (16), Carl Gunnarsson (36), Dion Phaneuf (3), and Mikail Grabovski (84) as the Leafs defeated Ottawa Senators 4-2 during NHL hockey action in Ottawa Saturday April 2, 2011.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
OTTAWA - The Toronto Maple Leafs refuse to fade from the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Tyler Bozak scored the winning goal early in the third period Saturday as Toronto kept its faint playoff hopes alive with a 4-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators.
The win pulled the Leafs to within three points of the idle New York Rangers for eighth place in the East. Toronto, which has three games remaining, also trails ninth-place Carolina by two points. The Leafs have played one more game than both the Hurricanes and Rangers.
"We've narrowed the gap on the Rangers a little bit so we'll see what happens," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said.
Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri and Nikolai Kulemin also scored for the Leafs (37-32-10), who have the fourth best record in the NHL since the all-star break at 18-7-5.
James Reimer made 23 saves to pick up his 20th win of the season for Toronto.
Jason Spezza scored twice for Ottawa (30-39-10), while Craig Anderson stopped 26 shots.
"We would have liked to have had a better result. We have a pretty big rivalry with these guys and there's a good hate on between the two teams and we definitely wanted to win the hockey game," Spezza said.
"Give them credit. They had a big game to win and they won it, but it would have been nice to beat them though."
Trailing 2-1 entering the third, Spezza pulled the Senators even with a power-play goal at 3:03, but Bozak put the Leafs ahead to stay less than three minutes later.
Kulemin sealed the victory with his goal at 18:40.
"It shows the character of our group to not let momentum shifts, whether good or bad, affect how we play," Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said.
"It was good to respond. You can't get down when another team scores or they're going to keep coming. It's another huge two points for our team and now we move forward."
Kadri took advantage of a rare miscue from Anderson to put the Leafs ahead 2-0 early in the second period. Anderson misplayed the puck behind his own net and as he tried to get back into his crease Kadri banked a shot in off the Ottawa goalie.
The Leafs held onto that two-goal lead until the final minute of the period when Spezza scored on a breakaway to finally beat Reimer.
"We had the game in control and made a bad decision at the end of the period and it gave them a little hope," Wilson said.
"Fortunately when they tied the game we got a power play and we managed to score a goal on it. We got the job done so I'm happy with that."
Kessel scored his 30th goal of the season at 12:23 of the first period to open the scoring.
Notes: Stephane Da Costa played his first NHL game after signing an entry level contract with the Senators on Friday. He his the sixth native of France to play in the NHL. ... The Senators recalled defenceman Andre Benoit from Binghamton. He recorded his first NHL point with an assist. ... Senators forward Marek Svatos left in the first period and did not return as he suffered a concussion on a cross check from Jay Rosehill. ... The Maple Leafs are 8-0-1 in their last nine games versus Northeast Division opponents. ... Kessel has scored more goals against the Ottawa Senators (15) than any other NHL team. ... Reimer posted a 9-4-1 record with one shutout, a 2.87 goals against average and .913 save percentage in March to be named the NHL rookie of the month. ... Attendance was 19,243.