TORONTO -- Tomas Plekanec has always been the Montreal Canadiens' security blanket, a player that coaches have leaned on to be defensively responsible and shut down stars from the opposing team.
Simmering underneath was an offensively talented player who was not always able to fully exploit that because of the defensive responsibilities placed on him.
But that may be changing.
Plekanec is centering two players on his wings who are better known for their offensive skills, for the first time, as he said himself, in years. He took full advantage Wednesday.
Plekanec scored his second goal with 42.9 seconds remaining in the third period to cap a wild finish and give the Canadiens a 4-3 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening game of the 2014-15 NHL season at Air Canada Centre.
Playing with Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, Plekanec helped trigger a Canadiens turnaround in the second period, when they began controlling the play after the Maple Leafs took a 2-1 lead in the first.
"Nobody was happy in the first part of the game," Plekanec said. "We started slow, we didn't think the right way, we didn't do the things that we talked about before the game that we wanted to do. In the second part, I think everybody got a little bit more into it, got more focused. Those goals that we scored, we played better in the offensive zone."
The winning goal was a stroke of luck more than anything else.
Plekanec entered the Maple Leafs zone against defenseman Roman Polak and took a shot from the corner that just missed the stick of Galchenyuk charging the net and instead deflected off rookie defenseman Stuart Percy's skate and past Jonathan Bernier. The goal came 96 seconds after Morgan Rielly tied the game with a similarly fortunate bounce in front of Canadiens goalie Carey Price when the rebound of his sharp-angle shot bounced in off Montreal center Lars Eller.
"We got a lucky break, obviously, but they got a lucky break to tie the game," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "So at the end it evened up."
PA Parenteau had two assists in his first game with the Canadiens, and Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban scored for Montreal.
As happy as Therrien was with the Plekanec line, he made a point of commending the work of David Desharnais between Pacioretty and Parenteau. Therrien's top two lines combined for 16 shots on goal and were on the ice for each of Montreal's goals.
Therrien showed off the improved depth of the Canadiens in the way he managed his bench, with no one playing more than Pacioretty's 18:17 or less than the 12:13 played by rookie Jiri Sekac in his NHL debut.
"I think we got a lot of speed on our team," said Price, who made 24 saves. "That's definitely one of our strong points, our assets. When we're working well as a group and we're supporting each other on the forecheck we really use that speed well."
Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak scored to give the Maple Leafs the lead in the first period, but Toronto was outshot 26-16 from that point.
"I thought we did a good job during the preseason of, when we worked on it and concentrated on it, we didn't give up a whole lot," Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. "I thought we showed that in the first period; we did a good job of making them dump pucks, keeping them slowed down in the neutral zone, which gives us more time moving the puck out of our zone.
"When we stopped moving our feet, that's when we got into trouble in the second period."
After a summer in which the Maple Leafs revamped their front office and put the emphasis on being able to control more of the play, they reverted to the same puck-possession problems that plagued them last season.
"We're going to build on the things we were able to create and demonstrate a work ethic for 60 minutes like I'd say we did for about 45 minutes tonight," coach Randy Carlyle said.
The Maple Leafs had two players make their debut in the NHL, and each got his first point.
Brandon Kozun took a shot from the slot that was deflected by Kadri on Toronto's opening goal to tie the score 1-1 at 8:04 of the first period, and Percy had an impressive zone entry on a power play before finding Bozak in front with 37.4 seconds left in the period.
The first goal of the 2014-15 NHL season came on the Canadiens' first shot by their leading goal-scorer last season. Pacioretty got around Phaneuf and beat Bernier with a sharp-angled shot that probably should have been stopped.
Bernier could not have been blamed on any of the next three goals he allowed, and he had to maintain his focus with the puck spending a lot of time in his zone in the final two periods.
Plekanec scored on a clean breakaway at 4:34 of the second, Subban was left all alone in a prime scoring area in the slot to score at 8:41 of the third, and the winner by Plekanec was deflected right in front of Bernier.
It was Plekanec's fifth shot on goal, tied with Subban for most in the game, and capped a night when he was an offensive force.
After years of excelling at the other end of the ice, it was a refreshing change for Plekanec and perhaps signaled a shift in his role this season.