Senators close in on Canadiens, put Leafs in tough spot

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When the Montreal Canadiens hired Claude Julien, they probably didn’t say “OK, now hold off the Ottawa Senators,” but the Atlantic Division title race keeps heating up.

It’s something PHT covered on Friday, yet a night later, the Senators went from being a possible threat to maybe being in the driver’s seat (even if Montreal is still in first).

To start, Montreal lost in Julien’s re-debut, and in regulation to boot.

The swing continued at night as the Senators beat the hated Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3. Two empty-net goals inflated the score, but maybe it gave a sense of how much the defeat stings for a Leafs team dealing with an increasingly congested Eastern Conference wild card situation.

MORE: The Panthers leap over both the Bruins and Leafs after beating Kings

Here’s a look at the Atlantic Division:

1. Canadiens – 70 points in 59 games
2. Senators – 68 points in 56 games
3. Panthers – 64 points in 57 games (after beating Kings)

Bruins – 64 points in 58 games
Maple Leafs – 63 points in 57 games
Sabres – 62 points in 59 games (boosted hopes with win today)
Lightning at 58 points (OT loss to Stars); Red Wings at 56 (beat Caps)

With three games to match or exceed Montreal’s two-point advantage, the Senators sure look to be in a strong spot. Hurting Toronto was more than a small bonus for Ottawa, too.

As you can see, Toronto squandered an opportunity to move ahead of Boston for the third seed in the division. Since this post first went live, things have only gotten worse with Florida also climbing.

Actually, on that note:

Quick look at race for bottom wild card spot in East

Bruins – 64 points in 58 games

Maple Leafs – 63 points in 57 GP
Islanders – 62 in 57
Sabres – 62 in 59
Flyers – 61 in 58

Yep, it was that sort of night for the Maple Leafs:

With shifts like these, it looks like hockey fans will have plenty of races to watch down the stretch. Tonight was a reminder not to dismiss Ottawa as a frontrunner.