TORONTO - Despite erasing a two-goal deficit to force overtime, the Canadiens' bid for yet another come-from-behind victory came up just short in a 4-3 OT loss to the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday.
A penalty call in the dying moments of regulation set the stage for Mats Sundin's overtime winner only 1:29 into the extra frame. Montreal dropped their fourth straight on the road to fall to 14-6-4 overall, while the Leafs improved to 13-8-3 to move within three points of the second-place Canadiens in the Northeast Division.
Montreal battled back despite spotting Toronto an early 2-0 lead as Claude Julien's charges could not quite add to their league-leading total of 12 wins in one-goal games. The Canadiens also failed to hand Toronto their first loss of the season when leading after two periods, as the Maple Leafs now sit at 7-0-1 when ahead after 40 minutes.
Julien, who decided to reshuffle three of his lines on Saturday, saw each of his new trios produce a goal.
With his team trailing 2-0 to start the second period, Mike Ribeiro got the ball rolling for the Canadiens at the 7:18 mark with his seventh of the season on a play set-up by new linemates Jan Bulis and Pierre Dagenais. The goal was Ribeiro's first in 13 games, as he has now picked up at least a point in all four games against the Leafs this season and eight games overall (4-6-10) dating back to Dec. 20, 2003.
Montreal then tied things up when Alexander Perezhogin tipped in an Andrei Markov blast from the point midway though the second. Perezhogin's goal snapped a 10-game scoring drought for the Russian rookie, on a night when he returned to Montreal's top line alongside Saku Koivu and Richard Zednik.
After seeing Toronto go up 3-2 on a power-play goal by Jeff O'Neill, Julien's final retooled trio knotted the score again to force ovetime. Michael Ryder and Tomas Plekanec worked a perfect give-and-go with Plekanec scoring his third of the season. Two of the Czech rookie's goals this season have come against Toronto's Ed Belfour including his first NHL goal back on Oct. 15.
Jose Theodore stopped 33-of-37 shots while Belfour kicked aside 30-of-33 Montreal shots on the night.
The Canadiens were 0-for-3 on the power-play while the Leafs went 2-for-6 with the man advantage.
Also scoring goals for the Maple Leafs were Jason Allison and former Canadien Chad Kilger, who picked up his first goal against Montreal since being plucked off waivers by Toronto on March 9, 2004.
The Canadiens will look to snap their four-game, road-losing skid in Ottawa on Tuesday night against the red-hot Senators.
NOTES: Saturday's result was eerily similar to the last meeting between these two Original Six rivals on Nov. 12 at the Bell Centre when the Leafs also capitalized on a power-play in overtime to edge Montreal 5-4... With his assist on Ribeiro's goal, Bulis recorded his 100th point as a Montreal Canadien ... D Sheldon Souray missed his third straight game with an injured groin... Former Canadien Darcy Tucker was not in the Leafs' lineup to be with his pregnant wife who is expected their third child... C Mats Sundin picked up his 1,100th career NHL point by setting up O'Neill's second period goal. Sundin became the 50th player and only the fourth European to ever reach the mark... The Canadiens are now 3-11-1-1 since the Leafs moved to the Air Canada Centre in February of 1999...
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com