MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens looked to be in trouble when goaltender Carey Price got injured just after helping Canada win gold at the Sochi Olympics.
But back-up Peter Budaj has put up two wins and an overtime loss while starting three games in four nights since Price went down with a suspected groin injury.
Budaj was sharp when he needed to be as the Canadiens bounced back after blowing a third-period lead to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 on Max Pacioretty’s second goal of the game, 3:28 into overtime on Saturday night.
“He’s been unbelievable” U.S. Olympian Pacioretty said of Budaj, who played for Slovakia at the Winter Games. “He’s kept us in all three games he’s played and he’s made key saves at key moments.
“That’s probably the most important thing a goalie can do. He’s one of the hardest working goalies I’ve ever seen and it’s good to see him get rewarded.”
Alex Galchenyuk scored in the first period and P.K. Subban tied the game and forced OT with a power-play goal at 10:52 of the third frame for Montreal (34-21-7), which is 7-1-2 in its last 10 games.
James van Riemsdyk had two and Phil Kessel also scored for the Leafs (32-22-8), who were coming off an overtime loss to the Islanders in New York in their first post-Olympic action on Thursday night.
Budaj, now 4-1-0 against Toronto in his career, made 22 saves for the win after backstopping Montreal to a 6-5 OT decision Thursday in Pittsburgh and a 2-1 OT loss to Detroit on Wednesday.
He may face even tougher action if he continues to get the starts as the Canadiens leave Sunday on a four-game West Coast road trip. Price is listed as day to day and may be able to return during the trip.
Against the Leafs, Budaj and the Canadiens were on a roller coaster as Montreal went up 2-0, but then saw Toronto roar back to take the lead, only for Subban to tie the game.
Along the way were unusual penalties, including two delay of game calls against the Leafs and one against Budaj.
Pacioretty’s game-winner, when he beat Jonathan Bernier with a high shot from close range that gave Andrei Markov his third assist of the night, came after Bernier slid well out of his net and was called for a delay as he smothered the puck with his glove.
Toronto had started overtime shorthanded when Kessel was called for flipping the puck over the glass.
Leafs captain Dion Paneuf would not pin the loss on the officials.
“I’m not going to stand here and say the calls were right, wrong or indifferent,” he said. “If you start complaining about that, that’s an excuse.
“We showed a lot to come back. JVR (van Riemsdyk) made an unbelievable individual effort and Phil had a great shot, but our team overall, we fought back. We got a point. We’re disappointed we didn’t get another one, but we did a lot of good things.”
There were plenty of Leafs fans at Bell Centre, but the atmosphere didn’t peak until the third period.
It took the Leafs until 14:38 of the first frame to get their first shot on goal, but they held Montreal to a 2-1 first period lead.
Galchenyuk put a spin-around shot from the slot past Bernier 12:38 in and Pacioretty scored on a backhander at 14:02.
After Joffrey Lupul hit a post, Kessel slipped a pass that van Riemsdyk deflected at the net, only to see it go in off Budaj at 17:34.
The third period saw van Riemsdyk get his second goal of the game on a short-handed breakaway at 5:28. Then Tyler Bozak snuck a pass through traffic that sent Kessel in on a breakaway to beat Budaj at 7:43.
“Bozak made a spin-around, behind-the-back pass and it went through two skates, a couple of sticks and ends up right on Kessel’s stick for a breakaway,” said Pacioretty. “I was right there with Kessel but I didn’t see the puck coming until the last second.”
Montreal coach Michel Therrien called a time out to settle his players and it seemed to work as Subban tied the game to force overtime.
“We got on our heels after (Toronto’s) third goal, and we just needed to calm down,” said Therrien. “I felt the bench was really down and I just wanted to say there was still a lot of hockey to be played.”
The Canadiens and Leafs have split their four meetings this season, with their last regular season game set for March 22 in Toronto.
The Leafs return home to face Columbus on Monday night with their top line still hot.
In their past seven games, Kessel has six goals and eight assists, while van Riemsdyk has five goals and six assists. The Leafs are 6-1-1 in their last eight games.
Five of van Riemsdyk’s 26 goals this season have come against Montreal.
Notes: Montreal’s Ryan White missed a second game with a flu, while Carey Price (lower body), Brandon Prust (upper body) and Michael Bournival (concussion) are sidelined. Francis Bouillon was scratched. . . The Leafs called up Peter Holland from the AHL and he centred the third line, bumping Nikolai Kulemin to the wing. Dave Bolland remains out with an ankle inury. Colton Orr, Trevor Smith and Paul Ranger didn’t dress.