TORONTO - Even though a few of the newest Montreal Canadiens provided some optimism on opening night, it was a standout performance by a much-maligned holdover that had everyone raving.
Carey Price delivered a pretty strong statement after enduring an off-season of questions about his play, stopping 43 shots in Montreal's 4-3 overtime victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.
The last time Habs fans had seen the young goaltender in a meaningful game, he was gesturing to them while getting booed on home ice during a first-round playoff loss to Boston. As a new season dawned, Price was the only reason Montreal was able to pull out an unlikely victory.
"He was unbelievable," said defenceman Josh Gorges, who scored the overtime winner with 12.8 seconds left. "He held us in there when the game could have got out of hand."
There were smiles all around the Canadiens dressing room after the game and no shortage of guys looking to heap praise on the goaltender.
"Carey stood on his head," said Mike Cammalleri. "I just talked to him and said, 'We've got to be better for you and we will.' The truth is that we expect him to do that from time to time because that's how good he is.
"He won us the game tonight."
The teams made it an entertaining opening to the season with a fast game that was much better than the plodding hockey of the pre-season.
Montreal was badly outshot and thoroughly outplayed through two periods, but found a way to hang around and pull out the victory. The Habs got some help from former teammate Mike Komisarek, who was in the penalty box for two of their goals.
Brian Gionta and Travis Moen each scored in their debuts for Montreal while fourth-liner Glen Metropolit tied the game during a late power play. He was surprised to even be on the ice to tip a shot from Gorges behind Vesa Toskala at 15:50 of the third period.
"It's just one of those things," said Metropolit. "I couldn't believe I was on the power play, so I'm like, 'Where do I go?' So I said, 'Why not go to the front of the net?"'
That's the same place Gorges headed on the winner, batting a rebound over Toskala after Cammalleri had taken the puck hard to the goal. It was just his sixth NHL goal in 247 career games.
"That's a great way to start the season," said Gorges. "I don't score many goals."
Matt Stajan, with two, and Alexei Ponikarovsky replied for Toronto.
The new-look Maple Leafs managed to justify some of the increased expectations that have come after a busy summer for GM Brian Burke. They carried the play offensively for much of the night and were as physically punishing as expected.
"I think we were the better team tonight, and fell short," said Komisarek. "We didn't get two points. Next time, we find a way to win and get the two points.
"Good start, could have been better, but we'll take the point and take the positive out of it."
It's clear that the Habs-Tor rivalry runs deeper than just history, with three fights, several scrums after the whistle and plenty of jawing back and forth. Much of it centred around Komisarek, the Leafs defenceman who bolted Montreal over the summer to sign a US$22.5-million, five-year deal.
Prior to the game, Leafs coach Ron Wilson expressed some concern that Komisarek might get a little too worked up while facing his former team - a concern that looked valid when he received a double high-sticking penalty in the first period for cutting open Scott Gomez.
In all, he ended up getting called for five minor penalties and a fighting major, and earned a surprising amount of praise from the coach.
"Mike answered the bell, and he'll continue to do so," said Wilson. "We need more of our defencemen to respond as aggressively and quickly as Mike did."
The only thing that put a damper on Montreal's victory was an injury to defenceman Andrei Markov, who left early in the third period after getting tangled up with Price. Coach Jacques Martin didn't specify the nature of the injury, but said Markov will be re-evaluated on Friday.
Price's performance didn't include a signature save - he was simply solid throughout the night.
He'll be especially important to the Habs fortunes as they open the season with five straight games away from home. You can count Martin among the people not surprised to see the goaltender steal a victory in the opener.
"I don't think I had any questions about Carey Price when I met with him in the summertime," said Martin. "I felt very confident about his ability and his learning experience from last year. Carey just turned 22 years old. When you look at his accomplishments in junior, in the American league, and also in the National Hockey League - he's on par with individuals like Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur at the same age.
"As a coach, that gives you confidence."
Notes: Leafs rookie Viktor Stalberg had an assist in his NHL debut ... Roman Hamrlik and Gregory Stewart were scratched for Montreal ... Jeff Finger (oblique), Jamal Mayers (suspected concussion) and Nikolai Kulemin sat out for the Leafs ... The teams split six regular-season meetings a year ago ... Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux was among six former Team Canada members to perform the ceremonial faceoff ... The 48th Highlanders performed before the game - an opening night tradition in Toronto ... Announced attendance was 19,617.