MONTREAL – Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle had a gut feeling that James Reimer would rise to the occasion in the team’s NHL regular season opener.
It turned out he was right, as Reimer made 34 saves and Mason Raymond got the game-winner in his first game with the Leafs as Toronto downed the rival Montreal Canadiens 4-3 in a fight-filled opener on Tuesday night.
One of the fights led to a scary moment when Montreal’s new enforcer George Parros was carried off on a stretcher in the third period after falling on his face during his second bout of the night with Colton Orr. Parros suffered a concussion and went to hospital for further evaluation.
Between the five fights in the game, Reimer made the saves and won a fourth straight start against Montreal.
“That was the hunch,” said Carlyle. “He’s played very well in this building in the time I’ve been here. I felt he gave us the best chance to win.”
Reimer got the nod over Jonathan Bernier, who joined the Leafs from the Los Angeles Kings in the off-season. Reimer proved his coach right, even if he doesn’t acknowledge the debate among fans and media over who should be the Leafs’ starter.
“When I’m in there, I’m not competing against anybody on my team,” said Reimer. “That’s not what it’s about.
“I’m competing against the other team, not the guys sitting beside me. They gave me the nod and I wanted to make the most of it and play my hardest for my teammates. And luckily enough, we won.”
Tyler Bozak scored shorthanded at 17:19 of the second frame and Raymond got the winner 5:10 into the third before Lars Eller’s second of the night closed the gap to one goal with 2:22 left in the game.
The Canadiens pushed hard in the closing minutes, but could not get the equalizer.
“The execution by our team was not there,” said Montreal coach Michel Therrien. “A lack of execution with the puck led to two goals and a lack of focus without the puck cost the other two.”
James van Riemsdyk and Dion Phaneuf also scored for Toronto, who play again Wednesday night in Philadelphia.
Eller’s three-point night included an assist on a Brendan Gallagher goal for Montreal, which next faces the Flyers at home on Saturday night.
The Canadiens’ 350th consecutive sellout crowd was electric as usual for a Montreal-Toronto game and it didn’t lack for action.
But the mood turned sombre 2:34 into the third period when Parros was prone on the ice. Orr had fallen and pulled down Parros, who was bleeding and looked woozy. Toronto’s trainers joined those from Montreal in treating him on the ice for several minutes.
“Give credit to our training staff, our medical staff,” said Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges. “The doctors were out there in five seconds. They didn’t waste any time. I just hope he’s all right.”
The crowd chanted Parros’ name as he was wheeled off the ice.
Carlyle credited his team’s special teams for the win. They got the short-handed effort from Bozak and opened the scoring on a power play.
“I thought out special teams were the difference in the game,” he said. “The short-handed goal turned everything in our favour and the power play got us going.
“But I liked that when we got up 4-2 we were able to play more of the grind game in the offensive zone and chew the clock up.”
The Leafs were on a two-man advantage when Van Riemsdyk partially fanned on a shot at the side of the net that slipped between Carey Price’s pads 8:01 into the game.
The teams were each down a man when Raphael Diaz slipped a pass to Eller for a goal at 10:08 and Toronto was caught on a 3-on-1 when Montreal got the puck behind Carl Gunnarsson and Eller fed Gallagher at 13:54.
Phaneuf tied it 8:36 into the second as he broke in on the left side to put a wrist shot inside the far post. It was the 19,000th goal in Leafs history in 6,169 games since 1917.
Bozak put Toronto ahead shorthanded at 17:39 when he poked the puck away from defenceman Andrei Markov at the point and went in on a break to beat Price to the stick side.
Raymond finished a give-and-go with Troy Bodie 5:10 into the third.
Price faced 38 shots.
Montreal got a scare midway through the first period when Max Pacioretty left with an apparent wrist injury after a hit from Orr. He returned in the second frame.
Notes: It was the fifth season in a row Montreal and Toronto played each other in an opener. Toronto leads 4-1, winning the last four. . . The Canadiens called up defenceman Nathan Beaulieu as insurance with Douglas Murray, Davis Drewiske and Alexei Emelin all injured.. . . Nazem Kadri played his 100th game for Toronto. . . Morgan Rielly was scratched for Toronto, while Montreal sat out Beaulieu, Michael Bournival and Ryan White.