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HOCKEY

First-place Sens tangle with rival Maple Leafs

The Ottawa Senators just bested one rival to grab the top spot in the Northeast Division. A victory against another in Toronto would help them keep a hold on the position.

The Senators conclude their season series with the Maple Leafs this evening after taking over the division lead with last night's victory against the Montreal Canadiens.

Ottawa was coming off consecutive shootout losses, including one in Montreal on Wednesday, but rebounded with a 2-1 overtime victory. With points in five straight (3-0-2), the Sens moved one point clear of the Bruins for first place in the Northeast Division. That also pushed Ottawa from the conference's seventh seed to second.

The move could be short-lived. Boston does have two games in hand over Ottawa and will host the Philadelphia Flyers earlier on Saturday before the Sens' nightcap, but it's still a big reward for an Ottawa club that wasn't even expected to be playoff contenders before the season started.

"This one means a lot for all those guys across the hallway," Senators head coach Paul MacLean said following last night's win. "They've worked hard and believed in themselves from the start. I think the consistency of their effort on a daily basis is being rewarded with the success the team is having."

Colin Greening had the game-tying goal on Friday and Filip Kuba won it with 1:53 left in overtime. He converted a feed from Daniel Alfredsson into a wrister that beat Montreal's Carey Price. Ben Bishop needed to make only 13 saves for Ottawa.

The task for Ottawa now is to keep moving forward and not just be happy with reaching first place.

"It's a big accomplishment for the team, but right now it doesn't really mean anything," said Kuba. "We just have to keep going. We have plenty of games left in the season."

Ottawa has 10 games left and will look to win a season series over Toronto for the first time since going 5-1-2 against its geographical rivals in 2006-07. The Maple Leafs have sandwiched a pair of wins around three straight losses to the Senators and have won five of their past seven in Ottawa.

Toronto finds itself eight points back of a playoff spot with 11 games to play thanks to its recent 3-13-2 skid. The Maple Leafs did manage to halt a five- game slide on Thursday with a 3-1 win over Tampa Bay.

John-Michael Liles scored on the power play at the 1:09 mark of the first and Joey Crabb and Jake Gardiner added second-period tallies. Matthew Lombardi had two assists in the victory, which moved Toronto to 1-2-0 on five-game road trip that ends in Boston on Monday.

"We started off on the right foot," said Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle. "Special teams are obviously going to be a major factor. It's the key to winning hockey games."

Carlyle should also be impressed with the play of netminder James Reimer, who snapped his personal five-decision losing streak with 34 saves. He took a shutout into the closing moments of the game before yielding a goal with 26 seconds to play, but still claimed his first win since Feb. 15.