TORONTO – It’s a measure of how far the Toronto Maple Leafs have come this season that coach Randy Carlyle can watch his team beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-1 and still see room for improvement.
“I call it maturity,” Carlyle said Saturday night. “And it’s maturity as a team, understanding in hockey games that the momentum can switch on one bounce, one power play, one turnover … You can’t really jump on people when you win 5-1, so as a coach you’ve got to really be cautious in how you deliver your message and how you get them to understand that there’s a different way when the score’s lopsided like that.
“You’ve got to really remain focused 110 per cent to make the safe play and make the right play. We did that for a good part of the hockey game.”
But not all. The Toronto coach was also quick to point out that “a lot of breaks went our way.”
Carlyle’s concerns apart, this game was over early.
Toronto (23-13-5) scored four goals on its first five shots, chasing Montreal goalie Carey Price early. It was a horror show for Price, who gave up three goals on four shots and was pulled after just 10 minutes 25 seconds. Peter Budaj didn’t fare much better in the first period, giving up a goal on the first Leaf shot he faced.
“I put us behind the 8-ball right off the bat,” Price said. “You can’t come out with a start like that.”
Both coaches said Price will be back.
“It was a tough night for (Price), but those things happen in your career,” coach Michel Therrien said. “He’s a good kid, he cares, he’s had a good season, he’s got character and he’s going to bounce back. I have no doubt about that.”
Said Carlyle: “He’s a world-class goaltender, you don’t get many of those evenings from him. … The next team that plays him, I’m sure, we’ll see a different Carey Price.”
At the other end, James Reimer was razor-sharp before 19,651 at the Air Canada Centre. Montreal (26-10-5) outshot Toronto 37-28.
“We don’t ask him to win us games, we just ask him to give us a chance,” said Carlyle. “And again tonight he did that.”
Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, Jay McClement, Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel scored for Toronto, which has come away with at least a point in 12 of its last 13 games (8-1-4).
Kessel, who also had an assist, has five goals and two assists in his last three games. He also raised his career figures against Montreal to 13 goals and 20 assists in 39 games.
Davis Drewiske scored for Montreal, which is vying with Boston for the Northeast Division lead. The Bruins lost 4-2 to Carolina, preserving Montreal’s one-point lead.
While the Leafs won comfortably, it was hardly textbook hockey. Both sides had their sloppy moments with Toronto recording 14 giveaways to Montreal’s one.
Perhaps mindful of a possible playoff matchup with the Habs, the Leafs weren’t about to bury Price.
“He’s one of the best goalies in the league,” said Kadri. “He’s stood on his head all year for that team.”
At 13-4-2, the Canadiens came into the game with the fourth-best away record in the league. And they arrived on the heels of a 5-1 win in Buffalo on Thursday that secured a playoff berth.
But they were off their game Saturday when sieve-like goaltending put them in a hole. And as the game wore on, they gifted Toronto a string of extra-man rushes.
Kadri, who had an assist on the night, clearly woke up on the feisty side of bed. After being high-sticked by Francis Bouillon less than two minutes into the game, he went on to flatten Lars Eller with a bruising check at the boards. He finished the first period in the penalty box after sending Brendan Gallagher flying with his shoulder.
“I didn’t think I was getting a couple of touches early so I just played the body as often as I could,” said Kadri. “Fortunately, I was able to come up with a couple of pretty big hits and I felt like I got the boys going.”
Montreal outshot Toronto 13-5 in the first period but trailed 4-1.
“Unfortunate the period had to end,” the Leafs’ official Twitter feed noted dryly.
Any idea of a Montreal comeback was negated by four minor penalties in the third.
“It’s frustrating when you’re down 5-1,” said Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban, who had two unsportsmanlike penalties on the night. “It’s easy to chirp and talk when you’re up 5-1.”
It was the fourth of five meetings between the two rivals.
Toronto won both earlier games at the Bell Centre while Montreal was victorious in the other meeting at the ACC. The two teams wrap up the regular season April 27 in Toronto.