TORONTO - With essentially an all-star team watching from the press box at the Air Canada Centre, the Canadiens suffered their first loss of the preseason, dropping a 4-3 decision to the Maple Leafs on Thursday night.
All Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev, Richard Zednik, Sheldon Souray and Jose Theodore could do was look on as Montreal fell behind, 4-1, before clawing back in the third period to make it a 4-3 game. Time ran out on the Canadiens, whose 2-1 preseason record now ties them with the Leafs, who will visit the Bell Centre on Saturday night.
Bryan McCabe opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 14:01. The veteran defenseman slapped a low drive from the blue-line past Yann Danis, who was screened by Nik Antropov.
Jan Bulis tied it at 16:58 when he beat Jean-Francois Racine with a high slapper from the middle of Toronto's zone. The veteran forward, who had 49 points - including 24 goals - with Pardubice in his Czech homeland in 2004-05, is among the team leaders with four points in two preseason contests.
Kyle Wellwood scored a pair of goals for the Leafs while 42-year-old Steve Thomas, a sentimental favorite to make the the team, had the other marker for Toronto.
Tomas Plekanec made it 4-2 with a power-play goal at 4:51 of the third. He had an open side of net to aim at after a terrific pass from defenseman Craig Rivet. Plekanec, a Czech native, scored 29 goals for the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs last season.
Pierre Dagenais completed the scoring for Montreal on a goal-mouth scramble with 3.5 seconds left in the third on a play set up by Plekanec and Mike Ribeiro.
Yann Danis got his second-straight start for the Canadiens as he continues to audition for the back-up spot behind Theodore to start the season. Danis stopped 10 of 12 shots before Carey Price stepped in mid-way though the second frame. Price, who was perfect against the Thrashers on Sunday, was considerably busier than Danis on the night, turning away 21 of the Maple Leafs' 23 shots.
The crackdown on obstruction continued. The 19 power plays in the night's contest were well above the 2003-04 NHL average of nine per game. The Canadiens continued to click with the man advantage by going 2-for-8, while the Leafs were 1-for-11. So far this preseason, the Canadiens are among the league leaders at a clip of 7-for-26 (26.9%) with the man advantage.
The Canadiens will host the Maple Leafs on Saturday night before welcoming the Bruins to the Bell Centre on Tuesday.
NOTES: Plekanec, who had a goal and an assist in Tuesday's 6-1 win over the Lightning, picked up where he left off with a goal and an assist... D Mark Streit registered his first point of the preseason as continued to audition for one of the available spots on the Canadiens blue line in 2005-06... In addition to scoring his first goal of the preseason, Dagenais continued his shootout magic and was the only member of the Canadiens to score on Tellqvist. For those keeping track, Dagenais is now a perfect 2-0 in shootouts after also scoring on his first attempt versus the Thrashers on Sunday... Other Canadiens shootout attempts went to Ribeiro, F Corey Locke, F Andrei Kostitsyn and F Guillaume Latendresse, all of whom were stopped by Tellqvist... Price stoned three of five Leafs shooters with F Mats Sundin slipping one past him before F Matt Stajan notched the shootout winner... RW Michael Ryder was scratched for the third straight game with an ankle injury, while D Mike Komisarek was dressed and even skated in the warm-up before deciding not to play as he continues to battle a stubborn flu... D Kevin Lavallee of Bell Making the Cut fame was the latest camp casualty as he was sent down to the Canadiens' AHL affiliate in Hamilton earlier in the day.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com. With files from the Canadian Press.