MONTREAL - The Toronto Maple Leafs put an end to a season full of negatives with a big positive.
Coming back to beat the arch-rival Montreal Canadiens 4-3 in overtime Saturday night will allow the Leafs to enter this off-season feeling good about a post-Olympic stretch run where the team finished a respectable 11-7-3. Seven of those wins came against teams currently in playoff position, plus one more was against the New York Rangers who remain alive for a berth.
"It's a big win for our team, a good way to end the season," said Dion Phaneuf, who scored the overtime winner for Toronto. "We'll take this summer to get ready for next season and it's going to be an exciting fall."
Head coach Ron Wilson credits general manager Brian Burke's moves to bring in goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Phaneuf in two separate trades as the driving force behind Toronto's late-season surge.
"He made two huge trades," said Wilson. "Getting (Giguere) in here stabilized our goaltending somewhat, and both (Giguere) and the Monster (Jonas Gustavsson) played great from the time we made the deal. Of course getting Dion has made us a bit better in our own end."
Toronto, which finished 29th in the overall standings and doesn't hold a first round pick in the upcoming draft, should be pretty solid on the blue-line next season with Phaneuf around for an entire season, the return of Mike Komisarek, the continued development of Luke Schenn and the steady hand of Tomas Kaberle.
But there is a possibility that Kaberle played his final game in a Maple Leafs uniform Saturday night after 12 years wearing the Blue and White.
Kaberle's no trade clause is lifted between the NHL Draft starting June 25 through to Aug. 15, and he was very nearly dealt to the Boston Bruins at the 2009 Draft in Montreal before a misunderstanding between the two teams scuttled the deal.
When asked if he was nervous about his status this summer, Kaberle wouldn't bite.
"I don't know what's going to happen in the off-season," said Kaberle, who is entering the final year of his contract that has a reasonable cap hit of $4.25 million. "No, I know what's going to happen, I'm going to work hard to get ready for next season. It's a long time to get ready, but I want to make sure it's my best off-season to get ready for my best year."
Many in the Leafs room spoke of how badly they wanted to win Saturday's game in regulation time, which would have forced the Canadiens to wait for the result of Sunday's do-or-die game between the Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers to know if they got in to the playoffs.
Still, Wilson said he never considered pulling Giguere at the end of regulation to try for the win.
"A lot of people would say to try and do something like that, but it would be fooling around with the integrity of the game," he said. "It wouldn't be right to pull the goalie. You're going to overtime, you play it like a normal game. I wouldn't do something like that."