Canadiens defenceman Patrice Brisebois throws a hair-raising check on Toronto’s Darcy Tucker.
Christinne Muschi, Reuters
You knew the Toronto Maple Leafs weren’t going to stink out the joint as they did two night ago at home, 8-0 losers to the Florida Panthers.
And you knew the Canadiens knew they were in for a fight, as they always are when their perennial rival comes to visit.
So Montreal now heads to Ottawa for a Saturday date against the Senators, having dropped a 4-2 Bell Centre decision tonight to the not-dead-yet Maple Leafs.
With a victory and a Senators loss at home to Florida, the Canadiens would have taken over top spot in the Eastern Conference. But the Senators won 5-4, and coupled with the Habs loss pull three points ahead of Montreal.
The loss tonight evened the season series at three wins apiece. It was Canadiens goaltender Carey Price’s first defeat against the Maple Leafs, having beaten them the past three meetings this season.
Montreal outshot Toronto 36-28 but ran into Vesa Toskala, a hot goalie who was named first star on the night.
Tomas Plekanec, centring the Canadiens premier line, got the Canadiens on the scoreboard at 11:09, scoring his 20th of the season to equal his output of last season in just his 55th game this year.
Plekanec had a yawning Leafs net to shovel the puck home, fed by Alex Kovalev who deflected an Andrei Markov pass from the blue line, then took a second stab at it through a Toronto defender’s skates to set up his centreman parked at the edge of Toskala’s crease.
Toronto’s Chris Newberry tied it with a one-timed blast past Price at 17:24, fed by teammate Dominic Moore who outmuscled Canadiens defenceman Mark Streit along the boards.
Darcy Tucker, Public Enemy No. 1 on most visiting rinks he plays, was left unattended by Canadiens defenceman Patrice Brisebois at 1:24 of the second period, sneaking in front of Price to take a passout from Matt Stajan to bang in the goal that put the visitors up 2-1.
Kyle Wellwood then stretched the lead to 3-1 at 19:36, banging a rebound past Price on the power play with Sergei Kostitsyn serving a hooking penalty, the Canadiens’ first penalty of the remarkably tame game.
Kovalev brought the Canadiens to within one with a shorthanded goal, on a fine head-man pass from Plekanec at 6:20 of the third after a goal-saving effort by defenceman Josh Gorges, who continues to play well on the Montreal blue line. Plekanec sent the Russian on a breakaway, Kovalev scoring on a nifty backhand deke for his 25th goal of the season.
That gave Kovalev, the night’s second star, three goals and five assists in his last four games.
Tucker then hit the vacated Canadiens net with 29 seconds remaining to round out the scoring.