TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs may have gotten off on the right foot after starting last season on eight wrong ones, but coach Ron Wilson wants to make sure things remain in proper perspective for his young squad.
The Leafs accomplished in a single game what took them nine tries last year, getting their first win of the season with a 3-2 victory Thursday night over the Montreal Canadiens.
"It's one game, we're not going to get carried away," Wilson said, who did acknowledge some sense of relief in getting the first win out of the way so early. "We'll have to banish all the newspapers from the room tomorrow and make sure all the TVs are turned off, because I'm sure some people are already planning the (Stanley Cup) parade."
That's the reality of playing in a hockey-mad market like Toronto that hasn't had one of those parades in 43 years, but perspective aside, the Leafs players all looked pretty pleased with themselves after taking care of last year's Eastern Conference finalists.
"It's a big win for our team," said captain Dion Phaneuf, who left the game for several minutes in the third to get stitched up after getting cut by a Montreal player's skate. "It's a divisional game against a team that has a lot of speed and a lot of skill, so it was good test for us."
Tim Brent, Phil Kessel and Clarke MacArthur scored for the Leafs, as they instantly avoided last year's misery when they got off to an 0-7-1 start.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere had a first-star performance for Toronto with 26 saves, including two from point-blank range on Brian Gionta in the dying seconds of the third to preserve the victory.
"It looked like vintage J.S. Giguere from back in the Anaheim days there," defenseman Luke Schenn said. "He was great for us. When he makes saves like that at key times at the end of a game, it makes us feel pretty good about ourselves having him back there."
Giguere admitted that he's out to prove his play this season will not be vintage at all, that he is in fact still in his prime and still able to produce the types of performances that propelled the Ducks to the 2007 Stanley Cup championship.
"I want to show everybody that I can still play," Giguere said. "I feel good, I have lots of energy. These young guys give me energy every day, so it's fun to come to the rink."
Carey Price was solid for the Canadiens after giving up two goals on the first six shots he faced, stopping 17 of the next 18 the Leafs sent his way.
There was a fair amount of pressure on him to shine right off the bat as Canadiens fans gave him a rough time in the preseason, and Price did just that early on by stoning Kessel and Tyler Bozak on Grade-A chances on the first two shots he faced.
"It's always nice to get into a game early, it's a confidence booster when you make a save early," said Price, even though it took over five minutes for him to see his first shot.
Off-season acquisitions Dustin Boyd and Jeff Halpern each got a goal in their first regular season games with the Canadiens.
"I thought Dustin Boyd was one of our best forwards tonight," Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said.
The game began with the traditional performance by the 48th Highlanders of Canada, who kicked off the Leafs season for a 79th straight time, and the Toronto player introductions.
They were necessary this year as there were five Leafs players playing their first game with the club: MacArthur, Colby Armstrong, Mike Brown, Kris Versteeg and Mike Zigomanis.
The Leafs took over five minutes to get their first shot on goal, but once they did the controlled the play, outshooting Montreal 12-5 over the final 15 minutes of the opening period.
"I felt the first five minutes we were a little nervous, you could feel the tension a little bit," Giguere said. "But once we had that first shot on net we started rolling. We got our legs."
Kessel and Bozak were both robbed by Price just before Brent was left alone in front to tip a Phaneuf point shot past him at 6:42 of the first. It was Brent's first goal in a Leafs uniform, and the second of his career in his 20th NHL game.
Just over two minutes later, Kessel got behind Hal Gill at the Montreal blue line to go in alone on Price. Kessel made a series of dekes to his forehand and Price got a pad on the shot, but his skate slid over the line and the puck followed, giving the Leafs a 2-0 lead at 8:57.
The Canadiens cut the lead in half at 12:19 when Boyd took advantage of a Carl Gunnerson giveaway to jam in his own rebound to score his first goal for his new team.
Montreal began taking it to Toronto in the second and drew three straight power plays over the middle period, but couldn't tie it up as the Leafs survived a close call when Tomas Plekanec hit a post to enter the third up 2-1.
Toronto made it 3-1 very early in the third when MacArthur danced around Jaroslav Spacek and slid a backhand past Price at 1:36 of the third.
"I'd like to have played the third differently," Price said. "I kind of got caught in between but that's hockey ... it's making quick decisions and sometimes they're not always right."
The Canadiens got that goal back less than a minute later when Halpern converted a rebound at 2:28, but that's as close as they would come.