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Tucker leads Leafs past Canadiens

by John Kreiser

Kyle Wellwood's goal helped the Leafs to bounce back after an 8-0 loss to Florida on Tuesday.
Two nights after getting booed off the ice at home, the Toronto Maple Leafs felt good about themselves again.

Darcy Tucker scored twice as the Leafs downed the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 at the Bell Centre on Thursday night. The win helped erased the bad taste from an 8-0 pasting at the hands of the Florida Panthers at home on Tuesday night.

"We were embarrassed at home against Florida and we wanted to show people we're better than that," said Leafs captain Mats Sundin, who collected his 1,300th career point with an assist. "I think we had a good game."

Defenseman Bryan McCabe returned from a broken hand to boost a Leafs team that played a solid defensive game in its own zone and got a strong outing from goaltender Vesa Toskala, who made 34 saves. McCabe broke his left hand against the Canadiens on Dec. 15 and missed 22 games.

“I think getting Bryan back — his aggressiveness and his leadership in the room — makes us that much better,” Tucker said.

It didn’t help at the start.

Montreal jumped ahead when Tomas Plekanec scored his 20th goal of the season at 11:09 of the first period, converting Alex Kovalev’s feed from the side of the net. But Kris Newbury tied it at 17:24 with a bullet from the high slot after Toronto’s checking line forced a turnover in the Montreal zone.

Tucker put the Leafs ahead when he took a pass from behind the net from Matt Stajan and beat rookie Carey Price with a quick shot 1:24 into the second period.

At a point in the season when every two points are crucial, Marty Turco led the Dallas Stars to four straight wins.

But on Thursday night, it was Mike Smith’s turn to shine.

Given the opportunity to start at Minnesota in a showdown of first-place teams, Smith turned aside all 25 shots he saw for his fifth career shutout and Niklas Hagman scored early in the third as the Stars beat the Wild 1-0 at Xcel Energy Center to further solidify their No. 2 position in the Western Conference standings. ...more

The Leafs killed off three Montreal power plays in the second period, then scored on their first one of the game when Kyle Wellwood took Tomas Kaberle’s rebound and lifted it over Price from in close. It was Wellwood's first goal in 16 games since Dec. 22.

"They have a good power play, but we did a good job keeping them to the outside," said Toskala, whose team held Montreal's League-best power play scoreless in four tries. "It's good to bounce back, especially in this building against that team.

Price made a big save on Sundin on a third-period power play — and on the transition, Plekanec sent Kovalev in alone from the Toronto blue line to score at 6:20, just as the penalty expired. But Tucker’s empty-netter with 29 seconds left put the game away and delighted the numerous blue-clad Leafs fans in the sellout crowd.

“It's a great atmosphere every time Montreal and Toronto play," said Sundin, who became the 30th player in NHL history to reach 1,300 points. "It doesn't matter where you are in the standings."

It does to Montreal, which fell three points behind Ottawa in the Northeast Division race. The Canadiens, who beat the Senators at home on Tuesday, visit Ottawa on Saturday.

"We've been playing so well in the last two months, you guys praised our team every day and we got cocky," Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau told reporters after his team lost in regulation for only the second time in eight games. "Every game this year against them has been close, and we shouldn't expect anything different. We weren't ready to battle."

The win was a welcome relief for the up-and-down Leafs, who were booed lustily at home during the third period of the loss to the Panthers and are still next-to-last in the Eastern Conference standings.

“The whole year has been one roller coaster after another,” said Tucker, who came into the game with just six goals all season. “It hasn’t been fun at times, but when we play like this, we’re a good hockey club.”

Despite the disparity in the standings, the teams have split six meetings this season. Montreal forward Chris Higgins said his team didn’t get enough offense early in the game.

''I don't think we took them too lightly but we just didn't play the way we wanted to against them,'' Higgins said. ''We wanted to get up early. I think coming off their 8-0 loss, if we put one or two goals against them, it makes them play a different style and makes them overthink a little bit. We let them get in the game and gain confidence throughout the game.''

Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report


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