MONTREAL -- Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Mike Komisarek was just as surprised as everyone else.
Speaking ahead of Thursday night's game against his former team, the Montreal Canadiens, Komisarek began emphasizing the importance of getting into the face of goaltender Carey Price to get him off his game and give the Leafs a chance to score their first goal of the season in Montreal.
What Komisarek didn't know was that in spite of Price shutting out the Leafs in both their visits to the Bell Centre this season, Canadiens coach Jacques Martin had decided to go with backup Alex Auld in this game.
"What?" Komisarek said. "Wow. Scratch that."
Martin said the decision to sit Price was based on the fact that Auld needed some work more than anything else.
Predictably, the Leafs said the change in goal does not affect the way they approach the game in the least, but it has to have them feeling a little better about their chances to know that the guy who's pitched shutouts the last two times he's faced them will be sitting on the bench.
"It's not going to change what we have to do," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "We have to create traffic, get off to a good start and stay on our toes the way we have been since the All-Star break."
Indeed, the Leafs enter Thursday night's game on a 7-2-2 run and sitting only six points out of the final playoff spot in the East with a game in hand on the eighth-place Carolina Hurricanes.
That game in hand will be played Thursday night.
"If we want to do anything these are the games we have to take advantage of," forward Clarke MacArthur said. "We're right there. If we win this one, we're four points out with 21 games to go."
That is true, but the playoff talk was just as ripe the last time the Maple Leafs were in town on Feb. 12 because they were six points back of a playoff spot then as well. After losing 3-0 to the Canadiens that night, Toronto has gone 3-0-1 without making up any ground in the playoff chase.
"We know we're a ways away and have some work to do," captain Dion Phaneuf said. "But our focus is on winning our games. That's all we can control. We're not looking ahead. We have to win our games. You can scoreboard watch and look for help, but it doesn't mean anything if you don't take care of your own business and win your own games."
The Maple Leafs will start rookie James Reimer in goal for a fifth straight time. And really, why wouldn't they? This late push toward the playoffs is in large part thanks to Reimer and his 9-4-2 record, 2.12 goals against average and .934 save percentage this season.
"You look around the League, a No. 1 goalie goes down and suddenly a team can't win," Wilson said. "We're getting that goaltending now and we're winning games."