TORONTO – Winning was the best redemption for Mac Pacioretty and the Montreal Canadiens.
Pacioretty scored twice to lead the Canadiens to an impressive 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night, and emphatically avenge an embarrassing 6-0 home loss Feb. 9 to their arch rivals.
There was bad blood between the two longtime rivals in that last meeting when an alleged biting incident involving Mikhail Grabovski and Pacioretty took place. But instead of physical retaliation, the Canadiens effectively used their speed to outplay Toronto, cementing the win on third-period goals by rookie Brendan Gallagher, Pacioretty and Brian Gionta.
“The coaches talked to us before the game about sticking to our gameplan and not getting sucked into the emotions of the game,” Pacioretty said. “I think we did a great job of that.”
Defenceman Josh Gorges agreed.
“There’s always a lot of different ideas, different emotions especially after the last way we played these guys about how do we get back,” he said. “It’s not about grabbing somebody and jumping them and feeding them punches because that really doesn’t do us any good in the long run.
“It may feel good for a few minutes if that opportunity did ever come but ultimately two points always feels better.”
Gallagher scored his sixth of the season at 9:08 of the third to break a 2-2 tie before Pacioretty clinched the win for Eastern Conference-leading Montreal (13-4-3) with his sixth at 14:26. Gionta scored into the empty net at 17:34.
Since being shut out by Toronto, the streaking Canadiens have gone 7-0-2 and outshot the Leafs 40-23 before a season-high Air Canada Centre gathering of 19,625.
Toronto also earned a 2-1 road win over Montreal in the season opener for both but dropped to 4-5-0 this season at the Air Canada Centre.
“The Maple Leafs played two terrific games at the Bell Centre and we knew we had to bounce back from those type of games,” Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien said. “We certainly played a great team game and stuck to our plan and we were controlling our emotion to play that game.
“Right from the get go I thought our guys were ready to play and we set the tone for that game. They tried to be physical on us but I was not afraid of that, honestly . . . we just kept focusing on the things we had to do to be successful.”
Therrien also heaped lavish praise on Gallagher.
“He’s got one way to play,” Therrien said. “He’s playing hard and start to earn respect not only from his teammates I believe but around the league. He’s a kid that plays with emotion.
“That was a big play for him, well deserved.”
The loss tarnished an outstanding performance by Toronto goaltender Ben Scrivens. The lanky Albertan, making his eighth straight start, kept the Leafs in the game despite being badly outplayed.
“We were flat, flat, flat, flat,” said Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle. “It looked like at times that we were playing in our boots and they were playing on skates.
“We just didn’t get anything going for ourselves. I don’t think there’s any way to paint it pretty and I’m sure you guys will give us a lot of help.”
Defenceman Alexei Emelin had the other goal for Montreal.
Frazer McLaren and Clarke MacArthur scored for Toronto (12-9-0), which had won three straight at home.
The Canadiens had forward Michael Ryder in the lineup after re-acquiring the former Hab from the Dallas Stars this week for Erik Cole. Ryder didn’t figure in the scoring but wore his usual No. 73 after Gallagher gave it up for No. 11. Ryder has had No. 73 since breaking into the NHL in ’03.
Montreal controlled the first, outshooting Toronto 12-4 in the first but it was Frazer who opened the scoring with his second at 13:44, converting the home team’s third shot of the game. Emelin tied it with his first at 16:56 before the Leafs’ Mike Brown received a checking from behind major and game misconduct for a hit on Gorges at 19:23.
Pacioretty put Montreal ahead on the power play at 4:17 of the second. Scrivens attempted to deflect P.K. Subban’s point shot to the corner but it deflected in off Pacioretty. The Canadiens nearly made it 3-1 but Scrivens robbed Gallagher with just over nine minutes remaining.
Toronto had a glorious chance to tie it when Grabovski was awarded a penalty shot at 11:45 after being hauled down by Emelin. But Grabovski, who came in having recorded 18 points in 26 games against his former club, couldn’t beat Canadiens goalie Carey Price to the stick side on the attempted deke.
MacArthur tied it at 15:47 with his fifth but Montreal narrowly missed going ahead as Emelin’s blast went off the post with just over two minutes left in the period.
NOTES—This is the third of five meetings this season between Toronto and Montreal . . . James Reimer served as Scrivens’ backup after being added to the active roster earlier Wednesday. Reimer had been out since suffering a knee injury Feb. 11 against Philadelphia. Goalie goalie Jussi Rynnas was reassigned to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. Reimer is expected to start Thursday night’s road game against the New York Islanders . . . With Rafael Diaz (concussion) out, defenceman Tomas Kaberle suited up against his former team . . . Toronto defenceman Mark Fraser came into the game leading the NHL with a plus-14 rating.