TORONTO - With Montreal looking to further dampen Toronto's fading playoff hopes, the Maple Leafs wiggled off the hook with a 5-3 win over the road-weary Canadiens Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre.
Playing their fifth of a grueling six-game road trip and second game in as many nights, the Canadiens (29-23-9) suffered their first regulation loss in nine games. The Canadiens still hold a three-point edge over the ninth place Atlanta Thrashers, including two games in hand.
With time quickly running out on the 10th place Maple Leafs (28-28-5), they now find themselves six points back of the Canadiens for the eighth and final playoff spot with only 21 games remaining on their schedule. Toronto is looking to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time since 1997-98.
It was a busy night for Montreal's penalty killing unit that was forced to deal with 11 Leaf power-plays, marking only the third time the Canadiens have faced 10 or more opposing power-plays this season. Toronto relied on the man advantage to secure the victory by going 4-for-11, while the Canadiens had half as many opportunities and went 2-for-5. A staggering 20-of-34 Maple Leaf shots came with the extra man. Montreal spent half of the second period short-handed in a game that also included a stretch that saw the Canadiens get whistled for seven consecutive penalty calls.
Richard Zednik opened the scoring at the 5:07 mark of the first period when he redirected a centering pass from Radek Bonk past Ed Belfour for his 14th goal of the season. Zednik's goal was his second in his last three games after scoring one goal over his previous 20 games. With only 0.6 seconds remaining in the second period, Andrei Markov scored his ninth of the year to cut Toronto's lead to 3-2 with his first goal since Feb. 4.
In what has become the norm on this road trip, Chris Higgins scored to give the red-hot rookie six goals over his last five games. The 22-year-old now has 13 goals on the season, with 10 of those coming away from the Bell Centre.
In his 11th straight start, Cristobal Huet stopped 28-of-33 shots as he suffered his first defeat in regulation since a 3-1 loss to Bruins in Boston on Feb. 2. Belfour turned aside 30-of-33 shots for his first victory in exactly one month dating back to a 4-1 win over the Thrashers in Toronto on Feb. 7.
Scoring goals for Toronto were Tomas Kaberle, Kyle Wellwood, Jason Allison and Mats Sundin, who potted a pair of goals including his 800th point as a Maple Leaf.
The Canadiens will wrap up their six-game, post-Olympic break road trip in Boston Thursday night.
NOTES - After suffering a shoulder injury Monday in Philadelphia, Tomas Plekanec was not in the lineup. Garth Murray took his place, getting his first taste of action since suffering a shoulder injury on Jan. 21. Mark Streit and Niklas Sundstrom were healthy scratches... The Canadiens were looking to become the first Habs squad to win three games in Toronto in one season since Jean Beliveau and the Canadiens turned the trick back in 1965-66... This marked the first of the Canadiens and Leafs' six matchups this season to not be decided by one goal...
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com