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The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a playoff drought that is unprecedented in their history. Under Cory Clouston, the Ottawa Senators' play down the stretch suggests a postseason return next year is very possible.
Having improved since Clouston took over as coach, the Senators look to end their subpar season with a win when they face the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
While Toronto (33-35-13) - one of the league's Original Six teams - will miss the playoffs for a franchise-record fourth straight season, Ottawa's run of 11 consecutive postseason appearances will come to an end.
The Senators (36-34-11), though, have changed their fortunes since Clouston was brought up from Binghamton of the AHL to take over after Craig Hartsburg was fired Feb. 2. Ottawa is 19-10-4 under Clouston, who became the team's coach on a full-time basis after signing a two-year contract Wednesday.
Though it will finish in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, Ottawa has plenty to look forward to heading into next season.
"We showed a lot of character battling back," Senators winger Jesse Winchester said.
Ottawa won a franchise-record nine straight home games before losing 3-2 to New Jersey in a shootout on Thursday night. The Senators played the Atlantic Division champion Devils tough after beating conference champ Boston and playoff-bound Philadelphia in their previous two home games.
Ottawa's winning streak at home included a 2-1 win over Toronto on March 9.
Dany Heatley, who had a goal for the Senators in that contest, needs one more to reach 40 for the fourth straight season. The All-Star winger has four goals in his last three games.
He'll be facing a Maple Leafs team that has allowed a league-worst 284 goals. Toronto, the only team that will finish behind Ottawa in the Northeast Division, has given up 30 goals in its last seven home games, going 3-4-0.
The Maple Leafs have been plagued by inconsistent goaltending all season. On Wednesday night, Curtis Joseph suffered his NHL record-tying 452nd loss as Toronto fell 3-1 to Buffalo.
Joseph is tied with the late Gump Worsley for the most losses in league history.
Joseph, fourth on the career victory list with 454, won't be in net Saturday. Martin Gerber, claimed off waivers from Ottawa on March 4, is expected to start in place of the 41-year-old Joseph.
Gerber struggled in the playoffs last season as Ottawa was swept by Pittsburgh in the first round. He hopes to return to Toronto next season to back up Vesa Toskala, who has been out since early March due to groin and hip injuries.
"Overall, playing here was really a great experience," Gerber told the Maple Leafs' official Web site. "I think things are going in the right direction."
Gerber is 5-5-0 with a 3.34 goals-against average in 11 games with Toronto. He's 2-3-0 with a 3.01 GAA in five games versus the Senators.
The Maple Leafs have lost their last two home games, getting held to a total of three goals, but have won both matchups versus Ottawa in Toronto this season and scored three in each. The Leafs lead the season series 3-1-1.
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