Lars Eller had a goal and two assists as the Montreal Canadiens sent Toronto a pre-playoff message Saturday night, defeating the sluggish Maple Leafs 4-1.
The Canadiens (29-14-5) did it without No. 1 goalie Carey Price, who was given the night off in favour of Peter Budaj. Rubbing salt into the wound, Montreal chased Toronto starter James Reimer early in the third period.
Toronto and Montreal could meet in the playoffs. But that was not decided Saturday night because Boston added to its point total by going to overtime in a loss to Washington, meaning that the Eastern Conference playoff matchup picture won’t be complete until Sunday when Boston plays Ottawa in a makeup game.
If Boston wins Sunday, the Leafs play Montreal. A Bruins loss and it’s Boston versus Toronto.
Once again Toronto (26-17-5) suffered from a lack of shots, with just six in the first period. It got worse in the second period when the Leafs managed just one shot despite three power plays.
Montreal outshot Toronto 28-17 on the night. And by the final whistle the Leafs had lost their discipline with a string of penalties.
The lack of shots is cause for concern given that Toronto managed just five shots in the second period and one in the third of its previous outing, a 4-0 win in Florida on Thursday. That’s 14 shots in four periods.
Andrei Markov, Brendan Gallagher and Thomas Plekanec also scored for Montreal.
Phil Kessel scored his 20th goal of the season for Toronto, notching his 10th goal in as many games
Toronto coach Randy Carlyle replaced Reimer with Ben Scrivens after Montreal made it 4-1 on the Candiens’ 23rd shot, a soft goal at 2:25 of the third period. Prior to that, Reimer had got little help from his teammates.
The Leafs chased Price in their last meeting, beating him three times on just four shots in a 5-1 win April 13 at Air Canada Centre.
Toronto came into the game having won three of the four previous meetings between the two this season, outscoring the Canadiens 15-7. The Habs’ lone win prior to Saturday was a 5-2 decision Feb. 27 in Toronto.
Montreal had gone 2-5-0 since clinching its playoff spot April 11 with a win in Buffalo.
Toronto’s first-line centre Tyler Bozak sat out for the second game in a row with an upper-body injury. Nazem Kadri took his place alongside Kessel and James Van Riemsdyk or Joffrey Lupul.
The Leaf power play produced a first-period goal but was more miss than hit in going 1-for-7. One second-period man-advantage saw Dion Phaneuf mishandle the puck at the blue-line, a Leafs player fire the puck into the netting above the glass and an icing call.
Mayhem seemed imminent when Carlyle started Colton Orr, Frazer McLaren and Mark Fraser for the opening faceoff. Orr and Montreal’s Brandon Prust were jawing before the puck drop but stuck to hockey after one of the referees skated over to have words.
After an energetic start, Toronto faded fast.
The Canadiens went without a shot for the first 11 minutes of the game, but ended the period outshooting Toronto 9-6. There was no shortage of hits, however, with 23 for Toronto and 16 for Montreal in the first 20 minutes alone.
Habs defenceman P.K. Subban, booed from announcement of the starting lineup, was an early lightning rod. He got a delay of game penalty at 7:53 when, with no one near him in the Montreal defensive zone, he cleared the puck over the glass. Upon exiting the box, he recorded Montreal’s first shot after an end-to-end rush that saw him spray Reimer with snow as he came to a stop.
Kessel opened the scoring on the power play at 15:36 of the first period, firing a shot through the legs of defenceman of Raphael Diaz and then through more traffic (Lupul and defenceman Josh Georges) in front of Budaj.
Eller tied it up at 18:01 with his eighth of the season, tucking the puck in off a sprawled Reimer’s skate as he flew past the crease. Markov made it 2-1 at 4:19 of the second period, slamming home his 10th of the season on a screen shot from the point.
Gallagher increased the lead at 9:18 when he beat Carl Gunnarson to the puck in front of the goal, tucking in his 15th of the season. Seconds before the goal, Kadri had tried to make a big hit at centre ice but missed his target and instead slammed into the glass.
The shots were 20-7 in favour of Montreal after two periods.
Plekanec, notching his 14th of the season, beat Reimer with a shot over the shoulder to pad the lead to 4-1 that ended the goalie’s night.
McLaren got an early shower at 3:05 of the third when he got minors for roughing and charging, a 10-minute misconduct and a game misconduct after misbehaving during a melee. There were no other penalties on the play.
Toronto’s Clarke MacArthur also exited early with minors for slashing and unsportsmanlike conduct and a 10-minute misconduct.