TORONTO — Antoine Vermette scored three goals and the Ottawa Senators moved within a point of wrapping up a playoff berth with an 8-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.
The Senators, who scored three short-handed goals, can clinch a playoff spot with at least one point Friday night when they close out the regular season at Scotiabank Place against the Boston Bruins (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1200).
Ottawa might have to play without captain Daniel Alfredsson, who left Thursday's game with what the team called an upper body injury following a hit by Toronto's Mark Bell. The Senators also lost forward Mike Fisher to a knee injury earlier in the game.
That was the low point of an otherwise great night for Ottawa. Vermette had his first career hat trick, Dany Heatley scored a pair of goals, and Dean McAmmond, Cody Bass and Jason Spezza also notched goals for the Senators, who have been under intense scrutiny from fans and media in Ottawa this week for their late-season tumble down the standings.
A loss on Thursday night would have left the Sens scrambling to get into the postseason. But the win kept Ottawa in sixth place in the Eastern Conference at 94 points, three ahead of ninth-place Philadelphia. Boston and Washington occupy the last two playoff spots at 92 points.
Bell and Dominic Moore scored for the Leafs, who fittingly ended their home schedule with a beating in their third consecutive season outside of the playoffs.
Vesa Toskala gave up eight goals on 37 shots for Toronto, although he didn't get much help from his teammates. Martin Gerber stopped 26 shots for Ottawa.
Bell opened the scoring at 6:30 of the first period. But that's when the fun stopped for Leaf fans.
Ottawa tied it on Heatley's one-timer on a power play at 11:12.
The Senators took the lead 2-1 with 2:45 to go in the first when Alfredsson picked up his second assist with a nice feed to Spezza on a 3-on-1.
The game took a nasty turn on the next shift when Bell nailed Alfredsson — who had his head down — with a hit that drilled the Senators captain to the ice. He was slow to get up and the Ottawa bench was livid, but there was no penalty.
Vermette scored a pair of rebound goals in the second, making it 5-1 after 40 minutes.
McAmmond and Vermette scored short-handed goals in the third. Vermette put in his own rebound at 3:11 after Toskala stopped his first two attempts for No. 23 on the season.
Notes: Veteran winger Cory Stillman returned to the Ottawa lineup after missing two games with a leg injury ... The Leafs were once again without top scorers Mats Sundin (groin) and Nik Antropov (knee). The Leafs close out their regular season Saturday night at Montreal with backup G Andrew Raycroft in net ... It was the third time in franchise history the Sens scored three short-handed goals in a game.