The Toronto Maple Leafs took advantage of Montreal backup goalie Alex Auld to get their first goals at the Bell Centre this season. And they kept right on scoring, even after the Canadiens summoned all-star Carey Price.
Phil Kessel had two power-play goals and two assists, and Tyler Bozak had two goals and an assist to lead the surging Maple Leafs to a 5-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night.
Kessel also assisted on both of Bozak’s goals on Price as Toronto recovered after blowing an early 3-1 lead, which chased Auld.
Kessel has six goals in five games since snapping a goal drought that reached 14 games following a 3-0 loss in Montreal on Feb. 12.
“He’s turned it on right now and he’s a pretty scary player when he gets going,” Bozak said.
James Reimer made 31 saves and Brett Lebda scored his first goal of the season for Toronto, which is on an 8-2-2 run.
The Maple Leafs improved to 27-27-7, reaching the .500 mark for the first time since Nov. 6. Toronto moved up to 10th place in the Eastern Conference with 61 points, one behind Buffalo and four points behind Carolina for the eighth and final playoff spot.
“It’s an exciting time of year,” Reimer said. “We’ve got 19 games left and we’re four points out, creeping closer and closer, so that’s definitely doable.”
James Wisniewski and Michael Cammalleri scored power-play goals 20 seconds apart early in the second to draw Montreal even at 3.
Jeff Halpern and Max Pacioretty also scored for the Canadiens, who won in Vancouver on Tuesday after losing the first two games of a trip to western Canada, including Sunday’s Heritage Classic outdoor game in Calgary.
The Maple Leafs regained the lead at 4-3 when Bozak scored Toronto’s third power-play goal of the game 8:30 into the second. His second goal of the game, and 10th of the season, 4:26 into the third made it 5-3.
Pacioretty scored with 2:37 remaining to draw Montreal within one.
Price, who made 17 saves, had shut out the Maple Leafs in each of their two previous games at the Bell Centre this season. Auld stopped six shots before leaving after Lebda scored Toronto’s third goal in a row 13:02 in.
“It’s part of the game and any time it happens you’re obviously not happy about it,” said Auld, who started to give Price a rest. “When you start the game you intend on finishing it. Obviously three goals in half a period isn’t what I need to do to help our team.”
Halpern got credit for his 10th goal 5:43 in when Roman Hamrlik’s point shot struck him on its way past Reimer to give the Canadiens a short-lived lead.
The Maple Leafs stormed back with three straight goals to chase Auld.
Kessel got his 24th goal at the 8-minute mark, just 6 seconds after Canadiens captain Brian Gionta was called for hooking Darryl Boyce, which cost Montreal a good scoring opportunity.
“I’m not here to criticize referees, they’re human beings, they work hard, they have a hard job to do,” Cammalleri said. “We all make mistakes every night so if they make 90 good calls one night and they make one bad one you can’t get mad at these guys, they’re trying to do a job.
“But the Gionta one, I think even if you asked them, if they were able to watch it, they probably would take that one back.”
Elsewhere in the NHL, it was: Vancouver 3 St. Louis 2; Philadelphia 4 N.Y. Islanders 3 (OT); Dallas 4 Detroit 1; Chicago 3 Nashville 0; and Los Angeles 4 Minnesota 2.
At Montreal, Kessel added his 25th goal, his second straight on the power play, at 12:03 to give Toronto a 2-1 lead.
Lebda took advantage of a goalmouth battle between Hamrlik and the Maple Leafs’ Mike Brown to make it 3-1 at 13:02.
The sold-out crowd of 21,273 cheered when Price replaced Auld and Montreal recovered with two quick power-play goals 20 seconds apart in the second to tie it at 3.
Cammalleri got his first goal in three games since returning from a shoulder injury 3:42 into the second to draw Montreal within 3-2.
Mikhail Grabovski was called for holding 10 seconds later and Wisniewski tied it at 3 on the ensuing power play with his sixth goal at 4:02.
Canucks 3, Blues 2
At Vancouver, Manny Malhotra’s goal early in the third period proved to be the winner as the Canucks edged the St. Louis at Rogers Arena.
Flyers 4, Islanders 3 (OT)
At Philadelphia, Andrej Meszaros scored at 4:42 of overtime to lift the Flyers to a 4-3 win over the New York Islanders.
Blackhawks 3, Predators 0
At Nashville, Tenn., Corey Crawford stopped 31 shots as Chicago beat the Predators in coach Joel Quenneville’s return to the bench after missing four games with a bleeding ulcer.
Stars 4, Red Wings 1
At Detroit, Mike Ribeiro, Loui Eriksson, Krystofer Barch and Jamie Langenbrunner scored goals to help struggling Dallas beat Detroit.
Kings 4, Wild 2
At Los Angeles, Drew Doughty scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period, Wayne Simmonds had two goals, and the Kings returned from a 10-game road trip with a victory over Minnesota.