TORONTO – The Maple Leafs haven’t been kind to the Canadiens in recent years on opening night. Unfortunately for Randy Carlyle & Co., Tomas Plekanec made certain that history wasn’t about to repeat itself in 2014-15.
On Wednesday night, the Czech centerman broke a 3-3 tie with 43 seconds remaining in regulation time to lift Michel Therrien’s troops to a dramatic 4-3 victory in front of 19,745 fans at the Air Canada Centre. The win earned the Canadiens their first two points of the season, and also snapped a four-game losing streak in season openers against Toronto dating back to the 2010-11 campaign.
“I thought we played a pretty good game from the second part of the game onward. We played much better. We put the puck where we wanted to. We played the game that we wanted to in the offensive zone, and we’re happy about the win. Obviously, it was the first game of the season in Toronto. We’re happy we were able to come away with the two points,” offered Plekanec, who kicked off his 11th season in a Canadiens uniform in style, registering two goals, a plus-1 differential, and five shots on goal while logging 15:27 of ice time on a line with Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk.
“You always breathe a little bit better when you win the first game. We had some flaws in our game, especially in that first little bit,” added the 31-year-old centerman, referencing the fact that the Maple Leafs came out swinging, looking to take advantage of a raucous home crowd. “We’ve got to fix things up to be more successful down the road. That’s the way it is for all teams this time of year. It will keep us on our toes, and it’s going to keep us working hard.”
Nevertheless, the Canadiens found a way to get the job done in hostile territory by showing remarkable resilience time and again in key moments. While Plekanec’s game-winning goal came just 96 seconds after Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly leveled the scoreline with time running out in the third period, the Czech pivot also singlehandedly stalled Toronto’s momentum earlier in the tilt when he beat netminder Jonathan Bernier at the 4:34 mark of the second frame.
“It was key for us to come back with that goal early in the second period after Toronto scored late in the first. Up until that point, we didn’t play the way we wanted to play. We want to skate fast and put the puck deep. We didn’t do that. We weren’t on the same page,” confided Plekanec, whose first goal of the season came courtesy of a tape-to-tape breakaway feed from defenseman Alexei Emelin after Leafs centerman Tyler Bozak closed out period one with a power-play marker to give Toronto their only lead of the game. “It was a great heads up play from Emmy. I jumped from the bench. I don’t know what happened on their side, but it was a great play by Emmy to set me up.”
Like Plekanec, Carey Price was equally pleased with the manner in which the Canadiens returned to form after struggling out of the gate. The 2014 Olympic gold-medalist, who stopped 24 of 27 shots against to earn the win, insists there are plenty of good things to take away from the season-opener heading into the Habs’ next test in Washington on Thursday night.
“It’s good to start off on the right foot. It doesn’t mean much, but we can certainly build on it going forward. It was all about highs and lows at the end of the game, but it was really good to win this game,” offered the 27-year-old netminder. “We have a lot of speed as a team. It’s one of our strong points. When we work well as a team and we support one another on the forecheck, we can use our speed to our advantage. We’re taking things game by game. We only have one objective for the next game, and we don’t want to complicate things.”
That’s exactly the approach head coach Michel Therrien is taking as the Canadiens’ current four-game road swing rolls into the District of Columbia.
“After a slow start, we played better in the second and third period,” concluded Therrien. “The goal of the exercise was to win this game, and we accomplished that.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.SEE ALSOHighlightsThe Numbers Game - October 8, 2014 Opportunities abound Opening night rivalries Tough decisions