TORONTO – If the Toronto Maple Leafs were looking for a confidence boost, Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens sure provided it Saturday.
Price was pulled at 10:25 of the first period after allowing three goals on four shots as the Maple Leafs beat the visitors 5-1 at the Air Canada Centre. It was the earliest Price has been pulled from a game in his career and was Toronto's third win against Montreal in four meetings this season. It marked the first time in the season series the home team has been victorious.
"Obviously, it's not a very pleasant feeling when you know you let your teammates down," said a dejected Price following the game. "That's the hardest thing. Those guys out there put in a full 60 minutes of work and I didn't come through for them. That's the hardest part, but you just have to put it behind you."
Jay McClement and Phil Kessel each scored a goal and an assist to pace the Maple Leafs, while James van Riemsdyk added two assists. Dion Phaneuf, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov also scored one apiece for Toronto. Davis Drewiske replied for the Canadiens.
The Maple Leafs entered the game with the NHL's third best penalty-killing until at 87.2 percent and once again held the opposition's power play off the board. Montreal was 0-for-4 and it was the sixth straight game the Leafs have kept the opposing power play goal-less. They are 22-for-22 over that span.
The victory for Toronto goalie James Reimer improved his record to 16-5-5. Reimer, who works out with Price in the offseason, knows he won't have many easy battles against one of the best stoppers in the NHL.
"Obviously, he's one of the best goalies in the League and everybody has an off day," Reimer said. "It's just what happens. We've all games like that; the best of the best who have played the game over the years have all had tough games. He had his tonight and at the same time; we got a few lucky bounces. I'm sure it's no big deal to him."
Strangely enough, Reimer said getting such a big lead early has a down side and often teams get lazy and careless. That was not the case with the Maple Leafs, who seemed to get stronger as the game wore on.
"Sometimes when you take a big lead, there's a tendency to back off a bit and not play as diligently as you can," Reimer said. "I thought we stuck to the game plan. Those can be the toughest games to play because you have a couple goal lead and you just want to play loosy-goosy. We stayed sharp and it says a lot about our character to continue playing our game."
While the Canadiens held a territorial edge in the first period, outshooting the Maple Leafs 13-5, Toronto led 4-1 after 20 minutes. Bozak opened the scoring for the Maple Leafs via the power play 1:59 into the game on a nifty tic-tac-toe passing play with linemates Kessel and van Riemsdyk drawing assists.
Komarov, who is best known for his defensive play and hard hitting, made it 2-0 at 8:08 when he directed a pass to the front of the Montreal net that somehow found Price's five-hole and barely crawled over the goal line.
Price was pulled after McClement scored his seventh of the season two minutes later.
Drewiske scored Montreal's only goal of the game at 13:08 on a quick snap shot from the slot after taking a pass from rookie Brendan Gallagher. The Canadiens came close to pulling to within a goal two minutes later, but defenseman Andrei Markov's floater from the left point hit the far post.
After that it was all Toronto, with Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf notching his eighth of the season at 17:06 of the first before Kessel scored his 15th just 4:42 into the second period.
Toronto coach Randy Carlyle was mostly pleased with what he saw from his team, but added the Maple Leafs were fortunate and took advantage of Price's off night.
"He's a world-class goaltender and you don't get many of those evenings from him," Carlyle said. "I'm sure he'll rebound and the next one he plays, he'll be outstanding because that is the type of character he has demonstrated in his career. To be an elite-level goalie, when things don't go well they usually get right back in there and make amends. The next team that plays him will see a different Carey Price."
While there was plenty of talk about the Maple Leafs seeking an upgrade in goal at the trade deadline, that did not happen and Toronto seems content to go with Reimer as their No. 1 as it marches toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2004. Carlyle was pleased with what he saw from his stopper.
"We don't ask him to win us games -- we just ask him to give us a chance," Carlyle said. "Again tonight, he did that. For our hockey club, a lot of things went our way, but we took advantage of the situation. That's what you have to do."