After making a coaching change on Friday night, the Leafs paid a visit to the struggling Canadiens at the Bell Center in Montreal. The Leafs were facing a few struggles of their own to get back in the playoff hunt. After holding a playoff spot for good part of the season, their recent streak of 10 losses in their last 11 matches put them out of top 8 and in a difficult situation. Brian Burke, after supporting Ron Wilson, with whom he shared a good relation over the years, finally was left with no choice and replaced him with Randy Carlyle, fired by the Anaheim Ducks earlier in the season.
Toronto’s recent skid was mainly due to the shaky goaltending in many of those games and on this night Jonas Gustavsson wasn’t any different. He showed signs of nervousness making a few shaky plays, falling behind the net and failing to control the puck well. His counterpart on the other end was as cool as we have seen him on many nights. In the 8th minute of the period, Erik Cole pounced on a big rebound on the side of the net taking advantage of some confusion in the Leafs zone. A long shot by Max Pacioretty hit a player in front and the puck went to David Desharnais who was in front of the net. Gustavsson stopped Desharnais but the puck went to an unattended Cole on thr side and he made no mistake burying it behind Toronto’s netminder. Sensing Gustavsson’s jitters, the Habs started throwing the puck a little more on the net.
Midway through the first, after Brad Staubitz hit Leafs Captain Dion Phaneuf behind the net, Mike Brown decided to square it with Staubitz. Both went hard at each other landing few solid punches. Even though Staubitz seemed to have the upper hand, the momentum started shifting in the visitors’ favor. The home team started doing what they had been doing the last few game and that was to stop working and shooting. Even the home fans were subdued by the couple of thousands of visiting fans from Toronto. At times, it was difficult to say if the match was in Toronto or in Montreal.
Toronto tied the game in the second frame after Mikhail Grabovski won the face-off and Matt Frattin jumped on the loose puck to beat Price. Montreal’s weakness in the face-off circle has been very apparent in recent games where the opponents managed to gain and maintain puck control in the offensive zone. The game started to pick up some pace following the goal. Carey Price started being busier in the nets and kept making the saves, making them look easy. Moments before Yannick Weber leveled David Steckel behind Montreal’s net, Price made a good save on Phil Kessel. Montreal managed to take 10 shots towards the Leafs’ net but their best chances came during a power-play but Gustavsson made good saves on Pacioretty and Subban keeping it tied at one. Toronto outshot the Habs 25-17 after two period.
Toronto controlled much of the play in the third period outshooting the Habs badly. Price kept making save after save to keep his team in the game. With close to eight minutes remaining in the game, Weber turned the puck on his blue line during a bad line change. Clarke Macarthur jumped on the puck and found Grabovski streaking towards the net. The ex-Hab made no mistake beating Price on his team’s 40th shot in the top corner on the stick side.
As the Canadiens pulled the goalie and started putting pressure in the offensive zone, Cole got called for slashing at 19:01. It took the Leafs six seconds to take advantage of that man-advantage after they won another face-off in the offensive zone. Grabovski scored his second of the night from a perfect feed from Frattin from behind the net. Randy Carlyle tasted his first victory in his debut as Leafs coach as he saw his team totally dominating the Habs, outshooting the home team 42-22.
HiD Three Stars
- Mikhail Grabovski
- Carey Price
- Matt Frattin
HiD Turning Point
A bad line change allowed Grabovski to score the go-ahead goal that eventually turned out to be the game winner