MONTREAL - After mounting comeback after comeback this season, the Canadiens were unable to pull another rabbit out of their hat in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs on Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
Despite having Lady Luck at the end of their bench since the start of the season, someone in the Canadiens dressing room must have crossed paths with a black cat at some point on Saturday as one of the flukiest goals of this young NHL season helped propel the Maple Leafs to victory.
With the Canadiens riding high after erasing both a 2-0 and 3-2 deficit to take a 4-3 lead, and time winding down in regulation, disaster struck with less than three minutes to go in the third period.
"I never saw a thing and I still can't tell you how that goal went in. I'm not even sure if it did to tell you the truth," admitted Jose Theodore about the fluttering puck that somehow popped up in the air from behind his net as Jason Allison and Mathieu Dandenault battled for possession, before rolling off Theodore's back and going into the net to tie things up. "All I can tell you is that I felt something hit me and then I saw the Leafs celebrating. It was a lucky bounce, the kind of goal that you see go in like once every couple of years. Or at least I hope so for our sake."
The Canadiens' rare brush with bad luck carried into overtime with Montreal being assessed a penalty for too many men with only 57 seconds to play in the extra frame. That set the stage for the NHL's top power-play unit on the road to go to work as Jeff O'Neill blew a one-timer past Theodore to seal the improbable victory for the Maple Leafs.
"It was a miscommunication on our bench, a lack of concentration during a line change," said a visibly frustrated Claude Julien, who saw his team deliver arguably their best and most complete performance of the season. "We were the better team tonight, there's no denying that. We took it to them early and never stopped working. It was a good team effort overall."
That's putting it mildly as the Canadiens flew out of the gate, out-blasting the Leafs 18-4 in the opening period with Toronto only registering their first shot of the game at the 6:55 mark. When all was said and done, Montreal held a 35-24 edge in shots, with Theodore making 19 saves on the night, and Ed Belfour turning aside 31 shots.
"I'll tell you one thing, if we play like we did tonight, every night, we are going to win a lot more games than we lose," said Steve Begin, who made up for his whiffing on a wide open net in the second period by tying the game in the third with his sixth of the season on a great set-up by linemate Radek Bonk. "I said I wanted to make up for the one I missed and I did, but it just wasn't meant to be for us tonight I guess."
The Canadiens (12-3-3) did all they could to register yet another come-from-behind victory but the Maple Leafs (9-7-2) held on for only their third road win of the season, including two victories at the Bell Centre.
Montreal was 1-for-8 on the power-play while Toronto was 2-for-6 with the Leafs' goals coming on a 5-on-3 and 4-on-3 advantage.
The news wasn't all bad for the Canadiens Saturday night as Andrei Markov continued his recent tear, tallying his second of the season to extend his point streak to six games (2-6-8). Fellow Russian Alex Kovalev picked up his 400th career assist on the play before scoring his seventh of the season to give him 19 points on the year. Saku Koivu added a pair of helpers of his own, as the captain continues to led the team with 20 points. Michael Ryder notched a power-play goal for his team-leading eighth goal of the campaign.
Also scoring goals for the Maple Leafs were Bryan McCabe, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Kyle Wellwood.
Next up for the Canadiens is a date with Roberto Luongo and the Florida Panthers at the Bell Centre on Tuesday night.
NOTES: The Canadiens retired No. 12 in honor of Dickie Moore and Yvan Cournoyer in a pre-game ceremony that included special guest speakers Jean Beliveau and former Canadiens play-by-play men Dick Irvin and Richard Garneau...Canadiens owner George Gillett and team President Pierre Boivin presented each legend with a painting from Michel Lapense, a commemorative Birks watch, and a $25,000 donation to the children's charity of their choice courtesy of the Canadiens Children's Foundation... D Mike Komisarek picked up his first point of the season by assisting on the Begin goal. Four of Komisarek's six career points in 83 NHL games have now come against Toronto... C Jan Bulis missed his third game with an injured left shoulder... D Sheldon Souray sat out with a foot injury after taking a shot off his heel on Thursday in Pittsburgh... Saturday night's match-up with the Maple Leafs drew a capacity crowd of 21,273, marking the Canadiens' 10th consecutive sellout of the season and 33rd straight overall packed house dating back to 2003-04... G Yann Danis, who was originally expected to rejoin the Canadiens on Saturday, remained in Hamilton and is 3-0 since being sent down on Wednesday. Danis stopped 33-of-34 shots in a 2-1 victory over the Binghamton Senators on Wednesday, turned away 23-of-24 shots on Friday in a 5-1 win over Cleveland, and made 35 saves in a 5-2 win over Grand Rapids on Saturday.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com