MONTREAL -- The ECHL is a long way from taking a twirl around the Bell Centre as the first star after a Saturday night showdown between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs. It's even farther when you're generously listed at 5-foot-7.
David Desharnais is making that fairy tale ride his own personal reality, and it's becoming more and more real with every game he plays.
But he still needs to pinch himself every now and then.
"Oh yeah, for sure," Desharnais said after his goal and assist helped the Canadiens to a 3-0 victory against the Leafs. "It happened just before the game -- Saturday night against Toronto and I'm part of it. It's just so exciting."
He wasn't just part of it; Desharnais played a leading role in the win even though Carey Price made 27 saves to earn just about the easiest of his six shutouts on the season.
After putting up prolific offensive numbers in both the ECHL and AHL, Desharnais is starting to show a real glimpse of what allowed him to beat the odds and reach the top level.
"I've been watching that guy for the better part of three years, and he never ceases to amaze me," said recent AHL call-up Ryan White. "It's not about his offensive ability, it's about the way he competes. I mean you've got a guy who's five-foot-whatever, and he out-competes guys that are 6-foot-4 every night. He battles in front of the net, he goes into the corners. When you have a guy like that, how don't you come out to play when you see him play as hard as he does?"
Brian Gionta and Benoit Pouliot also scored for the Canadiens (31-20-6) to pull them into a tie with Washington with 68 points, though the Capitals remain fifth in the Eastern Conference because they hold a game in hand.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 36 saves for the Maple Leafs (23-27-6) but got no help from his teammates, who took over the League lead by being shut out for the ninth time this season.
"You have to make sure you compete in every aspect of the game, and I don't think we were willing to do that for the whole 60 minutes," Giguere said. "There's no good reason, we don't have any excuse. We should be well-rested. They just outplayed and outcompeted us."
The Leafs came in to Montreal one a roll with nine out of a possible 12 points in their previous six games, while the Canadiens had lost twice in regulation and once in a shootout in their previous three contests.
After suffering through their worst defensive stretch of the season, allowing four goals or more in each game over the losing streak, the Canadiens got back to solid play in their own end.
"We had a meeting this morning about how many scoring chances we'd given up the past two games that were coming off the rush and off our work in the offensive zone," Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said. "We watched a lot of video on that and I liked the way we responded. I liked the way we played without the puck and the way we smartly managed the game."
Offensively for the Canadiens, it was once again their youth leading the charge.
Desharnais now has 2 goals and 4 assists during a three-game point streak. Pouliot, 24, scored for a second straight game and Max Pacioretty, 22, extended his own point streak to four games with a great assist on Gionta's second-period goal. Pacioretty now has 6 goals and 5 assists over his last 10 games, but he left the game after taking a hit from Toronto defenseman Luke Schenn just after the midway point of the third period. Pacioretty skated back to the bench keeping his arm motionless, and eventually made his way back to the locker room.
But no discussion of how Montreal's youth is helping them win can be complete without Price.
It's easy to forget he is only 23 years old himself, considering he's gone through a career's worth of ups and downs filling the most pressure-packed position in hockey. But in a season where Price's doubters far outnumbered the believers, the young goaltender continues to shine.
His six shutouts on the season are two more than he had in his career back in October, and this was the second time Price has shut out the Leafs at home this season. Prior to this season, no Canadiens goaltender had managed to hold Toronto off the scoreboard in Montreal since Nov. 12, 1977.
"It's fun, but winning's more important," Price said of the shutouts. "That's all it is to me, it's just another stat. I've said it before, the only real stat that's important to me is the 'W' column."
In that case, Price will be pretty pleased that he climbed back into a tie with Detroit's Jimmy Howard for the League lead in wins with his 27th of the season, more than double his 13-win total of last season.
The Leafs began well as both teams played a fast-paced, up-and-down game in an entertaining first period, though neither club was able to grab a lead.
But after 30 minutes of scoreless hockey, the Canadiens scored twice in a span of 100 seconds in the second period. Pouliot converted a great feed in the slot from Desharnais for his 12th of the season at 10:12, and Gionta got his 21st at 11:52 on a nearly identical play off a Pacioretty feed.
Desharnais completed the scoring at 6:19 of the third, converting a great cross-ice from Scott Gomez for a power-play goal that made it 3-0.