With less than a week to go before the playoffs start, there remains a good possibility that we’re going to see a series between the Maple Leafs and Senators. That would be a great matchup – one of the best possible – and would feature two underdog teams that few expected to be in the playoffs at all.
But more importantly, it would mark the resumption of the Battle of Ontario, the rivalry that dominated the province for a good stretch of the pre-lockout years, and continued to simmer after that even though one of the teams decided not to make the playoffs anymore. It was a great rivalry, one that alternated between dramatic playoff showdowns, legitimate bad blood, and goofy “Wait, did that really just happen?” scenes.
But which Battle of Ontario moment is your favourite? And more importantly, what does that choice say about you as a person? Let’s find out, as we run through 12 of the most memorable moments in the rivalry’s history.
Moment No. 1: Daniel Alfredsson’s hit from behind on Darcy Tucker
A rarely acknowledged fact about the Battle of Ontario is that it didn’t always involve all that much bad blood. In 2000 and 2001, the two teams hadn’t built up much in the way of animosity, and the matchups felt like more a geographic novelty than a real rivalry. Even the two fan bases largely got along.
But it’s not hard to pinpoint the exact moment that changed. It came in the final minutes of game five of the 2002 matchup between the two teams, with both the game and the series knotted at 2–2.
You really couldn’t draw up a better playoff controversy. Tucker was a divisive player, beloved as a gritty warrior in Toronto but viewed as a pest and diver by Sens fans. Meanwhile, Alfredsson was considered a virtual saint in Ottawa, but the moment transformed him into the rivalry’s arch-villain in the eyes of Leaf fans.
Having Alfredsson escape a penalty for drilling Tucker into the boards was near-perfect; having the Senators’ captain score the winning goal seconds later was downright diabolical.
What it says about you: You are a Senators fan, and there’s a 90–per cent chance you remember this moment more fondly than your wedding day or the birth of your children.
Moment No. 2: Ricard Persson boards Tie Domi
Domi was front and centre throughout the rivalry’s heyday, and normally anything that left him bloodied would be just fine with Ottawa fans. But that wasn’t the case in game six of the teams’ 2002 second-round matchup, when a hit from behind worked against the Senators just two days after Alfredsson flattened Tucker.
The Senators were looking to close out the series on home ice, and had jumped out to an early 2–0 lead that Leafs coach Pat Quinn later admitted had him worried the final might end up being 10–0. Ottawa fans were already breaking out the mocking “goodbye” chant. That’s when Persson decided to drill Domi from behind, cutting the Leafs’ enforcer and earning a five-minute major.
The Leafs scored twice on the power play, and went on to win the game 4–3. The two teams headed back to Toronto, where the Senators went out meekly with a 3–0 loss.
The hit led to one of the rivalry’s most memorable quotes, when Alfredsson told reporters that they’d be going on to the next round “if Domi had better balance”.
What it says about you: You’re a Leafs fan, and your life goal is to someday meet Domi and personally thank him for not having better balance.
Moment No. 3: The first shootout
When the NHL emerged from the year-long lockout that killed the 2004–05 season, it was with a full slate of 15 opening-night games on Oct. 5, 2005. But only one, featuring the Leafs and Senators in Toronto, went to a shootout, marking the first time in league history that the tie-breaker gimmick made an appearance.
Alfredsson got the honours of taking the first shot and scoring the first goal. Three current Hall of Famers were involved in Dominik Hasek, Ed Belfour and Eric Lindros. Dany Heatley ended it by scoring the first-ever shootout winner. And yet somehow, the most memorable moment from the whole thing has become Jason Allison’s slow-motion attempt, which is rumoured to still be going on to this day.
What it says about you: You still think the shootout is cool. Hi there, Mr. Bettman, thanks for reading.
Moment No. 4: Tucker dive-bombs the Senators bench
In the third period of a 2003 regular-season game, tempers boiled over when Tucker flung himself at Chris Neil. That wasn’t especially unusual behaviour for Tucker, but there was one problem: Neil was on the Senators’ bench at the time. The resulting brawl saw Tucker exchange punches with both Neil and Shane Hnidy. The Leafs later claimed that Neil had spit at Tucker, which turned out to be an alternative fact.
What it says about you: You wore a goatee, an Austin 3:16 ballcap and a Limp Bizkit “Break Stuff” shirt in 2003.
Moment No. 5: Tie Domi vs. Magnus Arvedson
Late in the same game that featured Tucker’s bench dive, Domi got frustrated with some alleged stickwork from Arvedson. He took a few gloves-on swings at the Senators’ forward, eventually popping him in the mouth and sending him to the ice.
Like so much of this rivalry, your perspective on the incident depended on what team you root for. Senator fans saw a code-violating assault on a non-fighter, while Leaf fans saw a player merely paying a price for refusing to step up and protect himself. The league sided with the Ottawa view, and Domi got a three-game suspension for punching a defenceless player.
What it says about you: You’re wearing a goatee, an Austin 3:16 ballcap and a Limp Bizkit “Break Stuff” shirt right now.
Moment No. 6: Auston Matthews‘s record-breaking debut
Easily the most recent moment on the list, Matthews’s debut came back in October and featured the rookie scoring four goals. That included a highlight-reel effort in which he victimized two-time Norris winner Erik Karlsson.
The Senators won the game, but that minor detail was lost in the hype over Matthews’s dazzling performance.
What it says about you: You’re young, and wondering why all these old people keep rambling on about stuff that happened before you were born. Pull your pants up, punk.
Moment No. 7: The Flu Game
Early on, the Feb. 5, 2004, game between the two teams didn’t seem all that remarkable. The Senators dominated early, and had built a 4–0 lead by the midway mark of the second. But both teams had been fighting a flu bug, and it hit Ottawa hardest as the game went on.
Soon, players were leaving the bench to head to the dressing room to, uh, relieve their symptoms. Some never returned, and as the game wore on, the Senators bench started looking like a beer league team that couldn’t find enough players.
The Leafs took advantage, mounting a comeback and forcing overtime. That’s where Owen Nolan enjoyed what was probably his most memorable moment as a Maple Leaf, ripping a slapshot past Patrick Lalime for the winner.
What it says about you: To this day, you can’t hear anyone complain about feeling sick without instinctively replying “boo hoo”:
Moment No. 8: Zdeno Chara ragdolls Bryan McCabe
During a 2004 regular-season game, McCabe decided it would be a good idea to drop the gloves with Chara. Spoiler alert: It was not a good idea.
What it says about you: You like watching nature shows and rooting for the lion against a chipmunk.
Moment No. 9: Mats Sundin’s OT winner
The playoff history between the two teams has featured five overtime games, of which the Leafs have won four. There was a Stumpy Thomas goal to cap off a frantic overtime in 2000, an unlikely winner from defenceman Cory Cross in 2001, a Gary Roberts triple-overtime wrister in 2002, and Mike Fisher’s goal to extend the 2004 series.
But perhaps the most memorable belonged to Sundin in 2001. That was the only playoff matchup between the two teams in which the Senators held home-ice advantage and went in as clear favourites. But game one in Ottawa was scoreless after regulation, and remained that way until Sundin’s perfectly placed bullet.
The Leafs won again the next night, and the series never returned to Ottawa; Toronto took the series in the only sweep in the rivalry’s history.
What it says about you: You’re a Maple Leafs fan who still enjoys sneaking up on unsuspecting Sens fans and yelling “PING” just to make them cry.
Moment No. 10: Curtis Joseph wipes out Mick McGeough
Joseph was a dominant force in the first three playoff matchups between the two teams, posting four shutouts and often standing on his head to keep the Leafs in games. At some point, Sens fans had to find themselves wondering: Is there anything this guy can’t do?
The answer, as it turns out: Skate. At least when he’s angry.
What it says about you: You think “have an enraged goalie tackle the referee” is still a better method of dealing with interference than today’s replay challenge system.
Moment No. 11: Alfredsson’s fake stick throw
During the 2003–04 regular season, Sundin got himself suspended for one game for throwing his broken stick into the crowd against the Predators. That next game happened to be against the Senators, and during an Ottawa blowout win, Alfredsson mocked Sundin by acting like he might toss his own broken lumber into the stands.
It was a harmless jab between off-ice friends, but that didn’t matter much to Toronto fans, who took it as a mortal insult and never forgave Alfredsson for it. Meanwhile, Senators fans responded by spending the next 13 years and counting pretending that this was the funniest thing that anyone has ever done.
What it says about you: You have a sense of humour. Specifically, the kind that’s kept Carrot Top in business for three decades.
Moment No. 12: Patrick Lalime’s game-seven meltdown
From a numbers point of view, Lalime was actually one of the best post-season goaltenders of al time. But none of that matters, because he’ll always be remembered for his epic meltdown in game seven of the 2004 series.
It’s almost impossible to overstate how important this game felt in Ottawa. The Senators had just fought back to win game six in double overtime to force the seventh game. They’d already lost three series to their archrivals, and the team was walking around wearing custom-made “Slay the Dragon” hats. Alfredsson had guaranteed a series win. New owner Eugene Melnyk did, too. Everything the team had built during the Jacques Martin era was leading up to this moment.
And then the game started.
After giving up an early goal to Chad Kilger, Lalime let two Joe Nieuwendyk shots slip past him. The first one was bad. The next, coming with just seconds left in the period, was inexcusable. As Bob Cole memorably called it, “Right… through… Lalime.”
The Leafs took a 3–0 lead into the first intermission and never looked back, earning their fourth straight playoff series win against their provincial rivals. Lalime never played another game in Ottawa, Martin was fired, and the two teams haven’t met in the post-season since.
What it says about you: You enjoyed Toy Story 3, but thought the ending wasn’t sad enough.