Ponikarovsky propels Leafs past Canadiens

MONTREAL (AP) — If the Toronto Maple Leafs are destined to miss
the playoffs, they’re happy to do their part to take the
Montreal Canadiens out with them.

Alexei Ponikarovsky had two goals and two assists and Toronto
took a four-goal lead before going on to beat Montreal 5-2 on
Saturday night.

Ponikarovsky’s line combined for 11 points. Mikhail Grabovski
had a goal and three assists – including one on Jason Blake’s
25th goal in the third – and Nikolai Kulemin had a goal and two

“It’s always great to win when we play Montreal,” said
Grabovski, who was traded to the Maple Leafs by Canadiens GM Bob
Gainey on July 3 and has no love lost for his former team.

“I’m so excited and happy my line played well.”

Toronto is 11th in the Eastern Conference with 73 points, eight
behind eighth-place Montreal, and is likely to miss the playoffs
for a fourth straight season.

The Canadiens, who remain one point ahead of ninth-place
Florida, are 1-3-2 since Gainey stepped behind the bench after
firing Guy Carbonneau on March 9.

“I didn’t have much to say to the players after the game but
(Sunday) we’re going to meet with the players that didn’t play
well, those that I’m unhappy with the way they’re playing,”
Gainey said.

A week earlier, Gainey had said that the team would need to
improve on the three standing points it claimed through his
first three games behind the bench. Montreal lost 5-4 in Ottawa
on Thursday after losing 4-3 in a shootout against the New York
Rangers two nights earlier.

“I think our next goal should be to win a game in 60 minutes,”
Gainey said. “We haven’t won a 60-minute game in a long time and
really our goal is to win a game where we play and we win the
game and we deserve to win the game, not just based on a couple
of power-play goals or on incredible goaltending but a team game
where we get everybody participating in a way that we would
resemble more what our competition looked like tonight.”

The Maple Leafs led 4-0 following Ponikarovsky’s second goal in
6 minutes 9:09 into the second period.

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“The whole line was awesome tonight – skating, shooting,
passing, doing everything that they can do – and it was great to
see,” Blake said.

Maxim Lapierre scored two straight goals 2:32 apart to draw
Montreal to 4-2 at 15:22.

The Canadiens, booed by the sellout crowd of 21,273 moments
earlier, came close to making it a one-goal game before the end
of the period with a number of good scoring chances,
particularly a deflection by Saku Koivu that struck the right
post during a power play.

Martin Gerber stopped 26 shots for Toronto, which has won four
of six.

Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves for Montreal, which lost its fifth
in a row.

Kulemin came close to opening the scoring in the opening minutes
before staking Toronto to a 1-0 lead with his 12th goal just
7:51 in.

Grabovski made it 2-0 just 23 seconds later when he slipped a
shot under Halak’s pads from a sharp angle for his 18th goal at

Ponikarovsky, who assisted on both goals, made it 3-0 with his
20th goal 3:09 into the second.

He added a power-play goal at 9:09 when he scored from the edge
of the crease for his 21st goal that increased the lead to 4-0.

Lapierre, who ended up on the Maple Leafs’ bench during a
skirmish at the end of the first period, drew some life back
into the crowd with his 13th goal at 12:50. The Canadiens center
drove the slot and redirected Chris Higgins’ turnaround pass
from the left side past Gerber and into the top right corner.

He got his 14th goal moments later when he beat Gerber at 15:22
to draw Montreal within 4-2.

After the Canadiens pressed for more late in the second, Blake
gave Toronto a three-goal margin when he beat Halak with a wrist
shot from the left side

Kulemin came close to scoring 1:29 in. Referee Mike Leggo’s
ruling that Halak was able to keep the puck from crossing the
goal line was supported after a lengthy video review.