MONTREAL – There’s nothing sweeter for Mikhail Grabovski than to come back to Montreal and score a big goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The stocky centre from Belarus put a spectacular spin move on the Montreal defence and got the game-winner 1:23 into overtime on Saturday night to lift the Leafs to a 5-4 victory over the rival Canadiens.
”It felt good—I had my family here in town today from Toronto and I’m happy for them because they came and saw how we won the game and I scored the winning goal,” Grabovski said after the comeback effort from the Leafs (5-1-1), who rebounded from a 6-2 defeat Thursday night in Boston.
”It was a good game for both teams. But for us, we try to win every game and keep going. We lost against Boston and we tried to win tonight. We listened to what the coach said to us and we played hard and we win.”
It was a seesaw battle between the NHL’s oldest rivals that saw the Canadiens lose a fifth game in a row and drop to an alarming 1-4-2 to start the season.
Toronto took a 3-2 lead into the final period, but Michael Cammalleri tied it at 1:27 with a blast from the left circle.
Moen got his second of the game when he deflected a Josh Gorges shot through traffic from the side boards past goaltender Jonas Gustafsson to give the home side the lead at 9:28 to a thunderous roar from send the Bell Centre crowd of 21,273.
But four minutes later, Nikolai Kulemin, with an assist from Grabovski, banged a puck in from a scramble in front of the Montreal net to tie it again and send the game into overtime.
That quieted a crowd that had booed former Canadiens Grabovski and defenceman Mike Komisarek throughout the game.
”I don’t hear anything,” Grabovski said with a grin. ”I think I just hear when Komisarek touched the puck.”
Montreal centre Lars Eller, perhaps the best player on the ice for the home team, was not impressed with how his team blew the lead.
”It’s not like us to give up so many quality scoring chances,” he said. ”I thought (goaltender) Carey Price stood on his head.
”I can’t recognize us in our own zone. We’re usually better than that.”
Gustafsson, who had been bombed in Boston, was called into service when Reimer was unable to continue after the first period.
The second-year goalie was clipped on the jaw as Montreal captain Brian Gionta tried to squeeze past just outside the crease 1:15 into the game. He looked dazed as he fumbled to find his mask and get back into the play, and the officials raised eyebrows by not blowing the play dead right away.
Coach Ron Wilson said Reimer ”didn’t feel right” during the intermission, but indicated it did not appear to be a serious injury. He said he didn’t know if Reimer would be ready to start Monday night in Philadelphia.
Gustafsson was beat on his first shot by Andrei Kostitsyn, but then settled down to stop 15 of 18 shots. Montreal outshot Toronto 28-27 overall.
”I don’t remember for the next seven or eight minutes Montreal even getting a shot, so we tightened up and helped the Monster get settled,’ said Wilson. ”It was probably two or three minutes that he even knew he was going in, because we fully expected that James was going to be all right. So he might have been caught off guard a bit.”
Gustafsson admitted it was a surprise.
”You always try to be ready,” he said. ”I asked (Reimer) how he felt and he said he thought he could play. I thought he’d keep playing but it’s too bad he couldn’t. I just had a couple of minutes to get ready and I went out there.”
Dave Steckel, Phil Kessel, with his eighth of the year, and Dion Phaneuf had the other goals for Toronto.
With Gionta in the box, Montreal got the early goal they wanted short-handed as Steckel’s pass was picked off and Eller sent Moen in alone to put a move on Reimer and slide the puck in.
The Leafs got it back on a power play at 7:07 when Steckel cut into the slot to deflect Jake Gardiner’s point shot between Price’s pads.
Kostitsyn beat Gustafsson 29 seconds into the middle period on a blast from the left side on a rush.
Only 36 seconds later, Matthew Lombardi checked the puck off Josh Gorges’ stick in front of the Montreal net and Kessel was alone to beat Price for his eighth of the season.
Phaneuf put Toronto ahead on a power play at 4:19 with a blast from the right point.
Montreal coach Jacques Martin said special teams made the difference. The Canadiens went 0-for-4, despite a full minute with a two-man advantage, leaving them 2-for 29 for the season. Toronto was 2-for-7.
When questioned why he used checking winger Mathieu Darche to play in front of the net on the top power play instead of veteran scorer Erik Cole, Martin said Cole had only three power play goals for Carolina last season and is not a man advantage specialist. Of course, neither is Darche.
Montreal defenceman Hal Gill, who also played 145 games for the Leafs, was honoured in a pre-game ceremony for having played his 1,000th NHL game this week. The towering six-foot-seven Gill, joined at centre ice by his wife and three children, was presented with a crystal piece from the NHL and a silver hockey stick by the Canadiens.
Notes: It was Cammalleri’s 500th career game. . . Scott Gomez (upper body) sat out for Montreal and is to miss at last a week. . . Jaroslav Spacek sat out with a suspected rib injury but is close to returning. . . Tyler Bozak, who injured a foot in Boston, was out for Toronto along with Cody Franson and Colton Orr. Komisarek returned after sitting out a game and got his usual boos from the crowd.