Carey Price outduelled Jonas Gustavsson and the Toronto Maple Leafs to give his Montreal Canadiens a clear decision in the battle of the goaltenders.
The Canadiens goalie stopped 32 shots Saturday night, and held off a two-man power-play advantage for the Leafs in the last minute and 42 seconds of the third period for a 3-1 win at the Air Canada Centre. The win broke a two-game winless streak for the Canadiens and prevented the Leafs from climbing back into the NHL's playoff picture.
"We played a textbook road game. The guys played well in front of me," said Price, who then quickly excused himself to have a cut on his foot looked after: "I'm bleeding all over the place."
The loss was inexcusable for the Leafs, as they let a team that played the night before in Pittsburgh (losing 5-4 in overtime to the Penguins) come in and outplay them in their own building. Thanks to a 4-3 shootout win by the Florida Panthers over the Winnipeg Jets, the Leafs are now three points behind the eighth-place Washington Capitals, as the Panthers jumped from eighth to third in the Eastern Conference by taking the lead in the Southeast Division. Meanwhile, the Jets climbed to within one point of the ninth-place Leafs, who have 51 points.
Typical of the Leafs' effort came early in the third period when the score was tied 1-1. A pane of plexiglas was broken behind the Canadiens net and there was a lengthy delay while it was repaired. Up to that point, the Leafs were the more lively team but once play resumed, they sagged and let the Canadiens seize the lead for good on a goal by defenceman Raphael Diaz.
"It was almost like that delay put us to sleep," Leafs head coach Ron Wilson said. "The next shift, we got scored on."
Wilson shuffled his lines after the Diaz goal, looking for some scoring punch, but couldn't find it. There was a chance when the Leafs got a power play but they failed to capitalize on the opportunity.
Then Canadiens winger Lars Eller, who was robbed earlier in the game by Gustavsson on a breakaway, scored at 11:25 to give the Canadiens the cushion they needed.
After the Leafs power play, Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul were reunited in five-on-five situations with Tyler Bozak moving back to their line. But the Canadiens kept them from creating many chances despite a power play in the last 1:42 of the third period that saw the Leafs pull Gustavsson for a six-on-four advantage.
The Canadiens and Leafs put on an entertaining show in the first period with a few breakaways, big saves and hits that saw them even at 1-1. The second period was almost as much fun to watch, albeit without any scoring, and the score remained tied heading into the third.
Both Gustavsson and Price were sharp through the first 40 minutes, with Gustavsson called on to make the harder stops. For example, the first shot he faced in the game was a shorthanded breakaway.
Eller had the breakaway courtesy of Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur, whose weak pass intended for Leaf defenceman Carl Gunnarson went right to Eller. He sailed in alone from the Leafs blue line only to see Gustavsson stand his ground and make the save.
Both first-period goals were scored in the last two minutes and they came 29 seconds apart.
The Canadiens got on the board first thanks to a defensive breakdown and a lucky bounce. The Leafs lost the puck in the Canadiens zone to start an odd-man rush that saw a shot miss the net and hit the end boards. But the puck took a weird bounce, arcing over the net and the heads of Gustavsson and the Leafs to land at the feet of Rene Bourque.
Gustavsson had a defenceman on either side of him, three abreast across the crease, but no one had Bourque. It was his first goal since he joined the Canadiens in a trade Jan. 12 with the Calgary Flames for Mike Cammalleri.
"That was the best bounce we had all year," Price said, echoing several of his teammates who said it was about time the Canadiens got a few.
After the goal, Leaf forward Matthew Lombardi jumped on the ice for his shift, then skated back to Gustavsson for an encouraging word. He may have told the goaltender he was going to even it up, because 29 seconds later he took a nifty backhand pass from Bozak for a breakaway and scored his fourth goal of the season.