TORONTO (CP) -- Mike Ribeiro was angry with himself for missing three quality scoring chances but he got his chance for redemption when it counted most.
Ribeiro's goal with 4:27 left in the third period lifted the red-hot Montreal Canadiens to a wild 5-4 win over the rival Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night and to their first 3-0-0 start in 27 years.
"I was 1-for-4 on scoring chances,'' said Ribeiro, who tallied his first goal of the year. "It's about time I finally scored.
"We showed some character tonight, we lost the lead twice in the game and came back. And (captain) Saku (Koivu) really showed why he's a leader.''
Koivu, the game's first star, terrorized Toronto's defence on the tying goal with 6:56 remaining, skating around the Leafs zone at will before taking a shot that was stopped by Ed Belfour, only for Steve Begin to pop in the rebound.
"It's something to build on,'' said Koivu, playing in his 500th career NHL game. "We have a young team and a lot of rookies. For us to win games late is really something for our confidence. We're not quitting. We're not playing our best but we're finding a way.''
Sheldon Souray, Alexander Perezhogin and Niklas Sundstrom also scored for the Habs, who won at the Air Canada Centre for only the third time (3-10-1-1) since the building opened in February 1999. Koivu and linemate Alexei Kovalev added two assists apiece for Montreal, which last began the season with three wins in 1978-79.
It wasn't easy. The Habs gave up a 3-2 lead in the third period on goals by Matt Stajan and Nik Antropov and were staring at their first defeat of the season before Begin and Ribeiro scored 2:29 apart to snatch two points from the Leafs, who collapsed defensively on both goals. Ribeiro, standing alone beside the net, tapped in a wonderful cross-ice pass from defenceman Andrei Markov for the winner.
"It was an exciting game,'' said Habs head coach Claude Julien. "We had a lot of mental errors, we looked tired at times. But we found a way to come back and score some big goals. That showed character and determination.''
Leafs defencemen Aki Berg and Wade Belak were on the ice for the tying and winning goals.
"Our defensive zone coverage cost us the other night (against Ottawa) and it cost us tonight,'' said Leafs head coach Pat Quinn. "It's an area that clearly we're not handling very well right now.
"We were losing battles for loose pucks, we weren't strong in our end.''
Alexander Steen, with his first NHL goal, and veteran tough guy Tie Domi, with his 100th career goal, also scored for the Leafs (0-1-1), who put in a game effort without injured star captain Mats Sundin.
"Right now I'm not really thinking about the goal, it would have been really nice to get the win,'' Steen said.
The Canadiens, who outshot Toronto 25-20, won all three road games to open the season and now head to Montreal for their home opener Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators (2-0-0). It doesn't get any easier for the Leafs, who face the Senators in Ottawa on Monday and the Philadelphia Flyers at home on Tuesday.
A timid first period was followed by a five-goal explosion in a span of 5:53 in the second period, setting up a wild third period with the kind of firewagon hockey the NHL could only dream of with its crackdown on obstruction.
Skaters on both sides were allowed to whiz around each end of the ice and set up scoring chance after scoring chance.
Perezhogin opened the scoring, making it two career NHL goals in two career games, by re-directing a pass in tight from Koivu between the legs of Ed Belfour during a power play 8:57 into the second period, igniting cheers from the many Habs fans in the house.
"I thought Perezhogin played really strong, he scored his second goal, he's been a real surprise,'' Koivu said of his rookie linemate. "We knew he had offensive talent but the way he worked for the puck in the corners was impressive.''
Steen and Domi had Leaf fans jumping out of their seats with back-to-back goals, Steen rifling a wrist shot through a sliding Jose Theodore on a 3-on-1 break at 11:29 after a giveaway by Micheal Ryder, and Domi baffling Theodore with a weak wrist shot that bounced in off the goalie's glove -- one that he'd like to have back.
Souray restored Montreal's one-goal lead at 14:50, blasting a one-timer from the point that whistled by Belfour on a Habs power play.
The Leafs weren't done, however, tying the game 3-3 on a power play 2:27 into the third period, Stajan blasting a one-timer past Theodore glove side after a nifty drop pass from Eric Lindros.
Antropov made it 4-3 Leafs at 10:38 when he crashed the net and shovelled a loose puck past Theodore, only to have the Habs come back with a pair to win it.
Notes: The Leafs 1-for-6 on the power play while Montreal went 2-for-4 ... Winger Pierre Dagenais, who started the season on the second line, was a healthy scratch after struggling in the first two games and taking eight minutes in penalties. Defenceman Mike Komisarek was also scratched in favour of Swiss national captain Mark Streit while winger Richard Zednik was still nursing a groin injury ... Sundin (fractured orbital bone) and Jeff O'Neill (shoulder) were the injured Leafs while winger Nathan Perrott and defencemen Carlo Colaiacovo and Andrew Wozniewski were healthy scratches. Veteran Ken Klee played his first game after missing all of the pre-season with a bruised heel.