Spolier Role Starts Early for Toronto Maple Leafs; First Up, Ottawa

Daren BukatorCorrespondent IMarch 6, 2010

TORONTO - APRIL 8:  Ottawa Senators fan Angela Hamilton of Ottawa shows her loyalty as does friend and Leaf fan Kimberly Raycroft also of Ottawa during game one of round one of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre on April 8, 2004 in Toronto, Ontario. The Senators won the game 4-2, to take a 1-0 series lead.  (Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

Although 26 points and 10 positions in the Eastern Conference separate the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators heading into this evening's latest segment of the battle of Ontario, there is still plenty enough reason to tune in to tonight's clash at Scotiabank Place.

Toronto sits comfortably in last place in the East and have all but secured a top five draft pick (for the Bruins ) this year. Their only real shot at making an impact this season is to embrace the spoiler role and make it difficult for opponents fighting for the playoffs.

And what better place to start than in Ottawa.

Winners of 14 of 16 games before the Olympic break, the Senators find themselves just one point back of Buffalo for the Northeast Division lead. With a win tonight, that crown will be theirs. First though, they must wage war with rival Toronto who has won the last two meetings, including a 5-0 blowout on February 6.

The Senators have struggled since the break (0-2-0) and head into tonight's contest looking to get back on track. The Leafs are also winless since the Olympics (0-1-1), but are coming off a good effort in their shootout loss in Boston.

Either way, one of those streaks will end tonight, but one shouldn't be so quick to judge which one it will be.

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Through the multiple trades GM Brian Burke executed this season, Toronto has become the youngest team in the NHL with a large number of players trying to secure full time jobs in the league next year, including newly acquired Luca Caputi from the Pittsburgh Penguins .

Caputi had a solid first game for the Leafs Tuesday against the Bruins, picking up his first assist in blue and white. The Toronto native grew up watching the Leafs and knows all about the rivalry that he will soon be a part of.

In a pivotal game five in the season series (both teams with two wins) with jobs up for grabs and pride on the line, a good showing from the Leafs should be expected.

Jonas Gustavsson will get his first start in net since a disappointing finish with team Sweden in Vancouver .

Ottawa, on the other hand, heads into the game with several players suffering from the flu. As many as five or more players have been listed as game time decisions including goaltender Brian Elliott.

All things considered, the underdog in tonight's game may not be as easy to spot as the standings would suggest, but the motivation for each team to win this one is unquestioned.  

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