TORONTO -- One team protected its No. 1 goalie by giving him the night off. The other team played its No. 1 goalie and his teammates took the night off.
The Montreal Canadiens, with backup Peter Budaj between the pipes and starter Carey Price on the bench, thoroughly dominated the Toronto Maple Leafs, handing James Reimer a 4-1 loss Saturday before the largest crowd of the season at Air Canada Centre, 19,730.
Depending on the outcome Sunday in a game between the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators, the Maple Leafs will face either the Canadiens or Bruins in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Maple Leafs and Canadiens have met 13 times in the postseason dating to a two-game total-goal series in 1925, with Montreal winning seven and Toronto six. The last time the teams met was in 1979, when the Canadiens swept the Maple Leafs in the quarterfinals.
When Montreal traveled to Toronto two weeks ago, Price was the starter and was lit up for three goals on four shots before being replaced in what turned out to be a 5-1 loss. Knowing they might play Toronto in the first round, the Canadiens opted to rest Price on Saturday. It would not be a good thing to go up against a playoff opponent that manhandled your starting goalie in back-to-back games.
Budaj had a rather easy night of it as the Canadiens outshot the Maple Leafs 28-17, including 11-1 in the second period. At the other end, Reimer was pulled after Toronto fell behind 4-1 and replaced by Ben Scrivens.
"Obviously it wasn't my best game," Reimer said. "There were a couple of unlucky bounces, but you try to take some positives from the game and then you flush it. It's the last game of the year and we obviously wanted to win and solidify our spot, but it didn't happen."
Reimer actually had a solid first period when the Maple Leafs were outshot 9-6, but when his teammates stopped skating, it was not a night when he could singlehandedly defeat a very skilled team.
Although Reimer has often said it is important for a goalie to put losses behind him quickly, he was still in a foul mood shortly after the game ended.
"It [stinks] when you don't play as well as you can," he said. "But I don't think there's any reason to be down. You sometimes have games when you are not your sharpest and that happens. I'm not going to be too low about it. It [stinks] and you hate it, but there were positives in the game and you move on."
Montreal center Lars Eller had an excellent game, leading the scoring charge with a goal and two assists. Defenseman Andrei Markov and rookie forward Brendan Gallagher each had a goal and an assist, and Tomas Plekanec also scored.
Leading up to the game, lots had been made of the fact the Maple Leafs are a bigger, more physical team, and when they elected to start tough guys Colton Orr, Frazer McLaren and Mark Fraser against Montreal's toughest players, Brandon Prust, Ryan White and P.K. Subban, it looked like it was going to be a long, hard-fought game. Didn't turn out that way, though, and Montreal certainly was not intimidated by Toronto.
"The game is not won on the weight scale or on paper or in the gym," Eller said. "It's won on the ice."
Montreal captain Brian Gionta said, "We have been battling all year long against Toronto. It has been back and forth. There were a couple of times when we didn't come with our game and they took advantage of us. There were also a couple of games where we played well against them and we prevailed. It was kind of an even series."
Toronto won the season series 3-2-0, but based on its play Saturday and during a number of games down the stretch, that would not give the Leafs much of an edge going into the playoffs if they do meet the Canadiens. Both teams will learn their first-round opponents after Sunday night's game between the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins; a Boston win will set up a Canadiens-Maple Leafs series.
Toronto coach Randy Carlyle, asked when he thought the game got away from his team, said, "I don't know. I'm scratching my head. I was mystified tonight. We had a real solid first period going for ourselves, playing the type of hockey we feel we need to play to have success, and then the momentum seemed to turn and we lacked the compete that was necessary to win some battles along the wall. We started turning the puck over and it seemed like it deteriorated from there."