The cheers that washed down on Mats Sundin were long gone before the final horn went off at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.
The Toronto Maple Leafs honored their all-time scoring leader by raising a banner honoring his No. 13 to the rafters of the Air Canada Centre before their game against Montreal. By the end of the night, the cheers for Sundin had turned to boos for the current Leafs after the Canadiens spoiled the party with a 5-0 victory.
It was a nightmarish end to a night that began with the Leafs honoring their longtime captain – who urged the crowd during his speech to get behind the team because of the difficulty of playing in Toronto.
"We just didn’t play well," Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. "I don't think there's much more than needs to be said. It's disappointing, with where we're at in the standings, not to come out and play our best."
The Leafs' third straight loss kept them from widening the gap on ninth-place Washington; they still lead the Caps by a point in the race for the last playoff spot in the East. Montreal, which looked dead in the water a week ago, has won four in a row and climbed into 11th place, seven points behind Toronto.
"No matter who we're playing we have to play this kind of hockey," Montreal coach Randy Cunneyworth said. "We were rewarded for playing the right way."
Five different Canadiens scored goals, Tomas Plekanec had a pair of assists and Carey Price stopped 32 shots for his fourth shutout of the season and the 16th of his career. Price also earned his second assist of the season when he started the play that led to Mathieu Darche's breakaway goal early in the third period.
"Tonight was a big night for Sundin and I was really honored to be a part of that," Price said. "But I didn't want to win it any more or any less just because it was a retirement party."
It was the first shutout by the Canadiens in Toronto since Jose Theodore blanked the Leafs 4-0 on Oct. 11, 2003. Nikolai Kulemin came closest to ending Price's shutout bid when his blast from the slot with 3:40 remaining hit both posts and rolled up the goaltender's leg -- but stayed out.
"In the end, Carey Price made all the stops and we didn't get very many," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said after his goaltenders -- James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson -- combined for just 13 saves on 18 Montreal shots. "It made for a difficult night."
Though the Leafs outshot Montreal 14-8 in the first period, there were only a handful of scoring chances as the teams appeared to take a long time to get their legs under them following the ceremonies for Sundin.
That all changed in the second period, when the Canadiens blew the game open with four goals.
Montreal killed an early penalty to Hal Gill, who played a role in the game's first goal.
Eric Cole was carrying up the right side just as Gill stepped out of the box and briefly joined the rush, backing off the Leafs' defense before turning to get to the bench. With some extra room, Cole raced into the zone, cut to the middle and fired a stoppable shot that went through the five-hole and past Reimer at 5:01.
"The first goal was probably a stoppable shot," Wilson said. "(It put us) down to a team that wants to play everybody back and rob you of your speed and the kind of game you want to play. That first goal was critical and we talked about that. It wasn't a good goal to give up, and bad things happened after that."
Rene Bourque made it 2-0 at 6:45, blasting a one-timer from the right circle past Reimer after a giveaway by the Leafs in their own zone. Darche picked up the pick and slipped it to Plekanec for a perfect cross-slot pass that Bourque hammered past Reimer.
Montreal then blew the game open with two goals in a three-minute span late in the period.
Max Pacioretty, coming off a hat trick against the Islanders on Thursday, fired a power-play rebound past Reimer at 15:45. It was the first power-play goal allowed by the Leafs in 18 games in 2012; Toronto had killed off 31 consecutive power plays since Winnipeg scored with the extra man on Dec. 31.
The 18-game streak without a power-play goal allowed was two short of the NHL record set by Chicago in 1969-70 – and the longest by the Leafs since 1940-41.
Lars Eller triggered plenty of boos from the home fans with his unassisted goal at 18:45. Eller carried unchecked through the neutral zone, danced around Phaneuf and swept in before cutting past Reimer and dunking the puck into an empty net for his 12th of the season and the Canadiens' fourth on seven shots in the period.
"We're just playing like a team," Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban said. "I think that we're all on the same page, we're supporting each other through thick and thin. We have to continue to do that if we're going to be successful as a team.
"The moment that we start pointing fingers at each other or getting away from the game plan it's not going to work."
The Leafs changed goaltenders to start the third period, but it didn’t help – Price made a save and cleared the puck to Plekanec, whose brilliant pass from his own half-boards caught Darche in stride at the Leafs' blue line just as he split the defense. Darche roared in alone and beat Gustavsson from 15 feet at 1:29 for a five-goal lead.
The rest of the night was dedicated to getting Price his shutout.
"It's definitely motivating when he's playing like that," Pacioretty said, "because you want to win it for him and you want to give him the shutout."