TORONTO - It was Mike Ribeiro's turn to save the day as he scored the game-winner in the Canadiens' hard-fought 5-4 win over the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.
Ribeiro's goal with less than five minutes to play in the third period marked the third straight game that saw the Canadiens pull out a win in the dying moments, after Michael Ryder's late goal on opening night in Boston and overtime winner in New York on Thursday. The Canadiens' top point-getter in 2003-04, Ribeiro picked the perfect time to score his first goal of the season with the 25-year-old also playing in his 200th NHL game. With usual linemate Pierre Dagenais sitting out, the trio of Ribeiro, Ryder and Chris Higgins was buzzing all night long. Higgins also assisted on the Ribeiro game-winner along with Andrei Markov who found No. 71 alone in front of Ed Belfour.
The Canadiens, who are off to their first 3-0 start since 1978-79, came from behind to erase a 4-3, third period Maple Leafs' lead, as Toronto remained winless at 0-1-1.
After a scoreless opening period, the Original Six rivals exploded for nine goals over the two final frames. Alexander Perezhogin, who seems right at home on the Canadiens' top line alongside Saku Koivu and Alex Kovalev, scored his second goal in as many games since the Russian rookie began filling in for Richard Zednik, who continues to nurse an injured groin.
In addition to playing the 500th NHL game of his 10-year career, Koivu also picked up a pair of assists to surpass the 400 NHL point plateau. His linemate also had a solid night with Kovalev ending his evening's work with two assists of his own, giving the Russian all-star a team-leading four points so far this season.
Rounding out the scoring for Canadiens was Niklas Sundstrom, who notched his first goal of the season in his 100th game with Montreal, as well as Sheldon Souray and Steve Begin, who also tallied their firsts of the campaign.
The Canadiens' power-play showed signs of the unit that ranked second during the preseason by going 2-for-4 on the night. The Maple Leafs, who were without captain Mats Sundin and Jeff O'Neill, were 1-for-6 with the man advantage.
Jose Theodore fought through heavy traffic all night long in stopping 16-of-20 Maple Leaf shots, while Ed Belfour turned away 20-of-25 pucks that came his way.
Scoring for the Maple Leafs were Tie Domi, Matt Stajan, Nik Antropov and Alexander Steen, son of longtime Winnipeg Jet Thomas Steen, who scored his first NHL goal.
The undefeated Canadiens will now head back to Montreal for a showdown with the 2-0 Senators in their home opener at the Bell Centre on Tuesday night.
Notes: D Mark Streit made the most of his NHL debut by assisting on Souray's power-play goal, while D Mike Komisarek, LW Pierre Dagenais and RW Richard Zednik looked on from the pressbox, with Zednik sitting out his second straight game with a groin injury...Tough guy Raitis Ivanans also played in his first NHL game but saw only 2:51 of ice-time and kept his gloves on ... Claude Julien's lines on the night were: Kovalev-Koivu-Perezhogin, Higgins-Ribeiro-Ryder, Sundstrom-Radek Bonk-Jan Bulis, Raitis Ivanans-Begin-Tomas Plekanec. On defense: Mathieu Dandenault-Francis Bouillon, Souray-Streit, Andrei Markov-Craig Rivet...
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com