TORONTO – The Montreal Canadiens finally had a good bounce go there way. And the faint light that represents their playoff hopes got a little bit brighter as a result.
Rene Bourque opened the scoring after having the puck unexpectedly carom off the end boards and on to his stick Saturday and the Canadiens rode the good vibes to a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“That was probably the best bounce we’ve had all season,” said goaltender Carey Price. “It was nice to be able to feel like we had luck on our side tonight.”
Positive signs have been few and far between during a tumultuous season in Montreal. But there was a good feeling in the dressing room after the team completed a tough weekend by earning three of four points in the standings.
The 11th-place Habs remain well back in the Eastern Conference playoff race—they trail eighth-place Washington by seven points—but aren’t ready to concede the season just yet.
“There’s still a light at the end there,” said forward Lars Eller. “There are more than 30 games to go and we still have a lot of faith in this locker-room. We’ll play one game at a time and see what happens.”
Price finished with 32 saves while Eller and Rafael Diaz added goals for Montreal (18-21-9), which looked good despite losing a shootout game in Pittsburgh a night earlier.
Matthew Lombardi replied for the Maple Leafs (23-19-5).
There was no sugar-coating the loss for a Toronto team that vowed to play desperate but couldn’t quite match the effort of a tired opponent. The game was still up for grabs early in the third period when a problem with the glass brought on a lengthy delay. Montreal immediately seized momentum afterwards as Diaz put them ahead 2-1 with a long shot through traffic.
“It’s almost like that delay put us half to sleep,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “I thought we started the period pretty well. And we had that 10-minute delay and the next shift we ended up getting scored on.”
Toronto missed a chance to leapfrog the Capitals for the final playoffs spot in the conference. It remains one point behind in ninth place.
“We know it’s a big one,” said Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. “We talked a lot about how big this game was. We’re definitely disappointed with the outcome.”
With the NHL season approaching the all-star break and teams already focused on the playoff races, tight games have become commonplace. This one was no different.
The Leafs had good jump in the first period and managed to survive a long Eller breakaway, which Jonas Gustavsson calmly denied. However, the Habs kept coming and were rewarded when Bourque took a shot that missed the net, only to have it right back on his stick.
Just like that it was 1-0 as Bourque collected his first goal since being acquired by the Habs.
“I knew right away it was going to come back out in front,” he said. “I just didn’t know if the goalie was going to grab it or the d-man knew where it was.”
Lombardi responded quickly with a breakaway goal only 29 seconds later, but the Leafs offence stopped creating chances as the game wore on.
The majority of the Toronto’s shots seemed to come from the outside as Price had to deal with nowhere near the amount of traffic his counterpart Gustavsson did.
“We pretty much shut them down,” said Price. “We didn’t give them a whole lot of opportunities.”
The Leafs felt a couple calls went against them after Diaz had made it 2-1. The first came on a power play when a Montreal player appeared to clear the puck over the glass from his own zone but wasn’t whistled for a penalty that would have made it a 5-on-3. The second came when Travis Moen shoved Jake Gardiner into Gustavsson moments before Eller scored to make it 3-1.
However, it was hard to argue the end result of the game was anything but deserved.
Habs interim coach Randy Cunneyworth downplayed the notion floated by his players that a bit of good luck on Bourque’s goal helped propel the team to victory.
“You make your own bounces,” said Cunneyworth. “That’s what we have to do. There’s more desperation in our play and our work and our detail and I think that’s the reward you get.”
Notes: Montreal is 5-9-2 since Cunneyworth became the interim coach last month. … Gustavsson is 10-5-0 in his last 15 starts. … Keith Aulie, Jay Rosehill and Darryl Boyce sat out for Toronto. … The Habs scratched Petteri Nokelainen and Yannick Weber. … Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman watched the game from the press box. … Announced attendance was 19,643.