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It's looking more and more like the NHL playoffs will not visit Ontario for the first time since before the Ottawa Senators were established, but that won't stop the Toronto Maple Leafs as they attempt to continue their recent dominance of their provincial rivals.
The Leafs will look for a second win in the last 10 days in Ottawa, where the Senators have won back-to-back games in the midst of an eight-game homestand that continues Monday night.
Toronto had earned at least a point in eight straight games (5-0-3) before its 4-1 home loss to Edmonton on Saturday night, a stretch that includes an active, season-high four-game road winning streak.
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But the Leafs (26-27-13) are still 10 points out of a playoff spot with 16 games to play as they likely head toward a fourth straight finish without a playoff appearance.
Ottawa is even more likely to miss the postseason even though the Senators (25-29-10) have qualified 11 straight times, meaning Canada's most populous province will probably be without a playoff team for the first time since 1991-92 - one season before the Senators began play.
Both clubs, however, have shown positive signs lately, with Ottawa averaging 3.2 goals and converting 25.5 percent of its power plays while going 8-4-2 since Feb. 7.
The Senators struggled to get offense from anyone other than their top line of Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza for much of the season, but four of their goals in a 6-3 win over Buffalo on Saturday night were scored by other players, including two from Nick Foligno to complement Alfredsson's pair in their sixth of eight straight home games.
Alfredsson, the team's captain, said the team has had trouble raising its intensity despite being out of contention for the first time in more than a decade.
"That's what we have to do in our locker room before games, mentally get our battle level up and make sure we're ready for games," Alfredsson said. "I think we've done a really good job the last couple of games here and hopefully we can keep that going."
Toronto couldn't keep its momentum going against the Oilers, losing despite outshooting Edmonton 40-18. The Leafs gave up a number of prime chances after losing defensemen Mike Van Ryn and Jonas Frogren to lower-body injuries early in the first period. Both will remain out.
"We're going to have to play with a bunch of callups for at least a week," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said.
The Leafs also have a new face in net, as Martin Gerber gave up three goals Saturday in his second game since joining Toronto, which claimed him off waivers from Ottawa on Wednesday.
He's immediately claimed playing time from Vesa Toskala, whose 3.26 goals-against average is among the league's worst.
Toskala, however, has anchored the Leafs' impressive recent run against Ottawa, going 6-1-1 with a 2.23 GAA in his last eight starts in the series, allowing two or fewer goals six times over that span.
Overall, Toronto is 7-1-1 in its last nine versus the Senators, including a 4-3 overtime win at Scotiabank Place on Feb. 28. The Leafs have a 3-0-1 lead in the season series, with one more meeting looming in both teams' season finale April 11.
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