Game 79: Limping Habs stumble against Leafs

Canadiens’ Alex Kovalev, who might be captain for awhile if Saku Koivu is out for a stretch, drills a shot at flinching Toronto goaltender Vesa Toskala.
Dave Sandford, Getty Images Sport

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On the night of Earth Hour, the Toronto Maple Leafs turned the lights out on the Canadiens.

The Habs needed only to be tied with the Maple Leafs after 60 minutes tonight to win their first division championship in 15 seasons. But without captain Saku Koivu and the versatile Mark Streit in the lineup, and 24 hours after a rewarding but draining game in Buffalo, the task wouldn’t be an easy one.

The Habs fell 4-2 to the lowly Maple Leafs in Toronto, snapping Montreal’s four-game win streak and delaying by at least another game their hoped-for Northeast Division coronation.

Koivu and Streit both were drilled in the foot with shots against the Sabres, the extent of the damage only to be known on Sunday after exams are done in Montreal. Both watched tonight’s game at the Canadiens hotel before joining their teammates for the charter flight home. And they’d be joined on the trip by two limping teammates.

Defenceman Francis Bouillon was hit in the right instep by a Leafs slap shot with about eight minutes left in the game and watched the rest of the contest from the bench from behind an expression of considerable pain. Maxim Lapierre, meanwhile, was ripped in the back of the leg by a Mathieu Dandenault shot with about three minutes to go and hobbled off the ice.

The Canadiens fell behind 1-0 at 7:25 of the second period, then tied it on a goal at 8:23 when Lapierre caromed one in off the skate of seldom-used Dandenault at close range. It was Dandenault’s eighth goal of the season.

But they surrendered the lead again just 70 seconds later. Both of Toronto’s goals were scored by Anton Stralman.

The Leafs made it 3-1 at 3:17 of the third period and added their fourth at 15:16, both of those by Jiri Tlusty, to give the home team much more than they’d need on this night.

Tom Kostopoulos made it a little closer with 16 seconds to play, notching his seventh of the year.

A dramatic come-from-behind overtime victory over Buffalo on Friday had gotten the Habs back atop the Eastern Conference. With a single point against the Leafs tonight, they’d have clinched their first division title in a decade and a half. It wasn’t to be.

The Canadiens (44-25-10) still lead the Northeast Division by six points over Ottawa with three games remaining, the Senators having lost 4-0 earlier in the day to the Bruins in Boston. Montreal was gunning for their first division crown since winning the Adams Division in 1991-92.

Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau was forced to use a short bench for 51 minutes vs. Toronto, defenceman Ryan O’Byrne given an elbowing major and game misconduct at 9:00 of the first period for crushing Toronto’s Jeremy Williams into the end boards.

That was only part of the nine minutes of penalty-killing the Canadiens had to do in the first period, which explains why Montreal was outshot 10-2 in the opening frame. The Leafs would take 37 shots in all on Habs goalie Jaroslav Halak, Montreal taking 23 on Toronto’s Vesa Toskala.

The Canadiens did have their chances – Christopher Higgins missed a penalty shot and another good chance while Montreal was shorthanded in the third, while Lapierre missed a yawning Toronto net on the backhand moments earlier, Toskala down and well out of the play.

The Canadiens will have Sunday off before they practice Monday afternoon, then bus to Ottawa for Tuesday’s game against the Senators before wrapping up their regular season back home on Thursday and Saturday against Buffalo and Toronto.

Toronto goalie Vesa Toskala stones Canadiens’ Christopher Higgins on a penalty shot.
Graig Abel, NHLI via Getty Images

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