Seldom has the end of regulation in a tie game met with a standing ovation.
But the sellout crowd of 21,273 at the Bell Centre stood and roared as the siren ending the regulation 60 minutes went off, ensuring that the Montreal Canadiens
and Toronto Maple Leafs
would go overtime tied 3-3 -- because the point was enough to assure the Canadiens of their third consecutive playoff berth.
's goal 2:06 into OT gave the Leafs a season-ending 4-3 victory, but few in the crowd seemed to mind.
"Who cares?" Montreal forward Michael Cammalleri
said. "Now we're getting ready for the playoffs."
The single point gave the Canadiens 88 -- one more than the loser of the Philadelphia Flyers' game against the New York Rangers will finish with after the two teams play Sunday for the last playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
The 88 points is the lowest by a team to make the playoffs since the shootout was adopted to settle tied games in 2005.
The Canadiens are still optimistic about their chances.
"If we did a panel of you guys (reporters) now, no one would pick us to win a Stanley Cup, but we know that when we play a good game, we can beat anyone. And you never go in thinking you can't win," Cammalleri said.
The Leafs finished last in the East, but showed marked improvement over the last six weeks of the season. The winning goal came when Phaneuf, a midseason acquisition by GM Brian Burke, took a pass from Christian Hanson and flipped it past Jaroslav Halak.
Hanson had his first two goals of the season for the Leafs, and goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere -- another midseason acquisition -- made 34 saves.
"We were taking about how we wanted to end it before overtime and make them wait until (Sunday) to see if they get in the playoffs or not," Hanson said. "That didn't happen, but we had a lot of pride on the line and we were going to win."
The game was the last for veteran NHL referee Dan Marouelli, who is retiring and received handshakes from players on both teams afterwards.
Both teams came out skating hard, but the Canadiens gave the crowd something to cheer about just 6:14 into the game. Giguere stopped Benoit Pouliot's shot from the right faceoff dot, shouldering the puck behind the net. Andrei Markov
picked up the rebound, came out to Giguere's right post and tucked in a backhander for the game's first goal.
But the Leafs tied it at 9:12 on a rare misplay by Halak, who has been the Habs' best player during the last few weeks. Halak tiptoed out of his net to play a left-to-right dump-in from the blue line by Mikhail Grabovski
. But Hanson beat everyone to the puck and swatted it into the net with Halak caught in no-man's land.
The Canadiens killed a penalty to Tomas Plekanec
against the NHL's bottom-ranked power play, but the Leafs -- also last in the NHL on the penalty kill -- weren't so fortunate. Just 12 seconds after Wayne Primeau went off for high sticking at 16:05, Scott Gomez
picked up the rebound of Markov's straightaway 40-footer and fed a pass from the right circle to Brian Gionta
alone in the slot. Gionta one-timed the perfect feed into a half-empty net at 16:17 to put the Canadiens back in front.
Hanson nearly tied it just after the six-minute mark of the second period, whipping a wrister from the high slot that beat Halak cleanly but rang off the post. The Leafs did tie it at 11:55 when Tyler Bozak
raced behind the Canadiens' net to control the puck, circled out to the right of Halak and threw a cross-ice pass that fellow rookie Victor Stalberg snapped over the goaltender's shoulder from well inside the right circle.
Marc-Andre Bergeron nearly put the Canadiens back in from with just under seven minutes left in the period when he clanged a shot off the post. His aim was a little better at 18:23, when his straightaway 55-footer went past a screened Giguere and just under the crossbar for a 3-2 lead. Gomez won a faceoff in the Toronto zone and got the puck back to Markov at the left point. His soft pass set up Bergeron perfectly.
The Bell Centre crowd anticipated another goal when the Leafs took an extra minor off a scrum 2:23 into the third period. Instead, it saw Hanson -- who hadn't scored a goal in 30 games this season -- tie the game with his second of the night at 3:32. The rookie center took a breakout pass from John Mitchell, split the defense and whipped a backhander from near the left faceoff dot past Halak, who was back too far in his net.
Giguere preserved the tie with 8:18 left by making a superb stop on Mathieu Darche
, who was left all alone 10 feet In front of the net. He stopped Darche again on a wide-open blast from the left circle with 6:30 left, then foiled Gionta a half-minute later after a giveaway in the Leafs' zone.
The Canadiens had two chances to win in overtime, but both Cammalleri and Pouliot drilled the post.
Despite the loss, Gionta noted that everyone starts with a clean slate when the playoffs begin next week.
"You get in and you go from there," he said. "Now we have four or five days off to get ready.
"I like our chances if we play consistent and play hard."
Material from wire services was used in this report