TORONTO - Despite the wishes of hockey fans across Canada, an elusive first playoff series between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs since 1979 doesn't appear likely ? at least in the first round.
It's even less likely after the Canadiens beat the Leafs 4-3 Saturday night at Air Canada Centre to extend their lead in the Atlantic Division standings to five points.
Toronto (36-28-8) dropped its fourth in a row, while Montreal (39-26-7) won for the fourth time in five games.
Of course the result was not without the kind of entertainment and controversy that would make a Habs-Leafs playoff series must-see viewing. Back-and-forth action was prevalent all game long, and then Tomas Plekanec's winning goal came under questionable circumstances.
A little over nine minutes into the third period, James van Riemsdyk was penalized for goaltender interference when he steam-rolled Carey Price, even though replays showed Montreal defenceman Andrei Markov knocked the Leafs winger into him. Plekanec scored short side exactly two minutes later to cap off an ugly night for James Reimer.
Max Pacioretty, Rene Bourque and Brian Gionta also scored for the Habs. Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri had the Leafs' goals.
Reimer, making his fourth straight start in place of the injured Jonathan Bernier, finished with 32 saves on 36 shots. Price stopped 33 of the 36 that came his way in a game that was mostly even throughout.
A turnover by Phil Kessel led to Montreal's first goal just 5:47. Kessel coughed the puck up to David Desharnais, who then found Pacioretty with plenty of space.
Pacioretty's shot went just under Reimer's glove for his 31st goal of the season, just two short of a career high.
Just over a minute later, David Clarkson fumbled the puck in the offensive zone, and Jake Gardiner was caught out of position when Brian Gionta found Bourque. Bourque's shot then beat Reimer clean at 6:52 to make it a 2-0 Habs lead.
Reimer might like to have those first two goals back, but he also did his part to reverse the tide of the game by robbing Pacioretty with a big glove save midway through the first. If the 26-year-old's confidence was hurting from a rough season, comments made by Randy Carlyle earlier in the week and other factors, that didn't show as he flashed the glove with flare to a big cheer from the crowd.
Lupul went down the ice on the next shift and scored, taking a pass from Mason Raymond and firing a laser of a shot past Price at 11:02 to cut the deficit in half.
Reimer and Price traded saves as their teams traded scoring chances for several minutes before the Leafs tied it up thanks to some strong work from Kessel. Reigning Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban fell after Kessel knocked him off the puck, and the Toronto winger then managed to find Bozak all alone in front to make it 2-2 at 18:03.
All it took was another turnover by the Leafs to stunt their momentum and give the Habs a 3-2 lead at 19:07. Along the boards in the defensive zone, Kadri tipped the puck right to Bourque, who fed Gionta for a shot that went off Toronto defenceman Tim Gleason's stick and in.
The Leafs got three excellent chances to get it back in the second period. Price stopped one, his left post stopped one and the right post another.
A give-and-go with James van Riemsdyk and Kessel required Price to make a sliding save early in the period on a quick shot. Thirteen minutes in, Gardiner clanked a shot off the post, and 17 minutes in, Morgan Rielly pinged a shot off the opposite post.
Toronto finally tied it late on an early-third-period power play after Plekanec hooked Gardiner. After Raymond cycled the puck along the boards, Lupul stationed himself behind the net and found Kadri wide open in front for his career-high 18th goal of the season at the 2:49 mark.
That goal broke Montreal's streak of 25 consecutive penalties killed, which dated to March 6 against the Coyotes in Phoenix.
The Habs took the lead for good on Plekanec's goal that followed van Riemsdyk's penalty.
NOTES ????????? Referee Greg Kimmerly was honoured before working his 1,000th career NHL game. Director of officiating Stephen Walkom presented the Toronto native with a Tiffany crystal, and then captains Dion Phaneuf and Gionta gave Kimmerly sticks signed by the Leafs and Habs. ... Dave Bolland returned for the Leafs after missing 56 games with a severed tendon in the back of his left ankle. ... With Bernier scratched for the fourth straight game with a groin injury, Drew MacIntyre backed up Reimer. ... Bourque returned to the Habs' lineup after five games as a healthy scratch, replacing Ryan White. Defenceman Douglas Murray was in for Jarred Tinordi.