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Carlyle makes debut as Leafs' coach vs. Canadiens

by Brian Hunter
MAPLE LEAFS (29-28-7) at CANADIENS (25-30-10)


LAST 10:
Toronto 1-8-1; Montreal 3-6-1

Season Series: Fifth of six meetings between these Northeast Division rivals. The Maple Leafs beat the Canadiens twice back in October, but Montreal has won the two subsequent matchups. Toronto did prevail 5-4 on an overtime goal by Mikhail Grabovski in the only game played at the Bell Centre.

Big Story: The Leafs will have a new face behind the bench when they take the ice at the Bell Centre. With his team in a 1-9-1 slump and five points out of eighth place, GM Brian Burke pulled the plug on Friday and fired Ron Wilson after nearly four seasons. The new face is Randy Carlyle, fired earlier in the season by Anaheim -- where he and Burke led the Ducks to the Stanley Cup.

Team Scope:

Maple Leafs: Carlyle didn't stay unemployed long after being let go by Anaheim on Nov, 30. It's a reunion with Burke -- but the GM wasn't thrilled about having to fire Wilson, a longtime friend, despite a 130-135-45 record in 310 games, no playoff berths and 10 losses in 11 games. Like Carlyle, Wilson and Burke go back a long way, both in the NHL and with USA Hockey.

"That was not an easy decision for me to make," he said in a statement.

Canadiens: In typical fashion for how this season has gone in Montreal, even in snapping a five-game losing streak on Thursday night the Canadiens had to do things the hard way. Power-play goals by P.K. Subban, Lars Eller and Max Pacioretty staked the Habs to a 3-1 lead over the Wild after two periods and David Desharnais extended it to three goals by scoring midway through the third. But the visitors stormed back to tie in the final four minutes, and it took Desharnais connecting again in the shootout for the Canadiens to pull out the 5-4 victory.

"It was incredible," Desharnais said. "If the people wanted a show, tonight was a show, I guess. Thankfully we came out with a win, because there were a lot of things that were pretty pitiful."

Who's Hot:
Joffrey Lupul has consecutive games with a goal and an assist for the Maple Leafs. Phil Kessel has six goals and 11 assists in his last 13 games. … Desharnais has 3 goals and 3 assists during a three-game points streak for the Canadiens.

Injury Report: Montreal lost forward Aaron Palushaj in the opening minutes Thursday when he took a stick to the area of his right eye. Neither he nor center Scott Gomez (eye) are expected to play. Forward Mathieu Darche (dizziness/upper body) has missed the last four games. Defenseman Andrei Markov (knee) and forwards Brian Gionta (biceps), Mike Blunden (knee) and Travis Moen (upper body) are on injured reserve. ... The Leafs are healthy.

Stat Pack: In addition to scoring his 14th goal of the season, Bozak won 67 percent of his faceoffs (14 of 21) against the Blackhawks on Wednesday. … Desharnais, who went undrafted out of juniors despite consecutive seasons of 100-plus points for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, leads the Canadiens in scoring with 50 points.

Puck Drop: Carlyle, originally drated by the Leafs, is the 16th former player to serve as their coach. In all, he's the 29th coach in franchise history -- and he'll be trying to end a playoff drought that dates to 2004, the longest in franchise history and the second-longest active absence from the postseason.

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