TORONTO (AP)—The Toronto Maple Leafs finished one difficult stretch of games and were in no hurry to look ahead to the next tough part of the schedule that is quickly coming up.
Phil Kessel(notes) and Tomas Kaberle(notes) both ended goal droughts, and the Maple Leafs used a strong start to beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 on Saturday night. That ended a run of five games against the top teams in the Eastern Conference in which Toronto went 3-2.
“You look at the whole week and we essentially did something (no one expected),” coach Ron Wilson said. “I don’t think anybody said we were even going to win one of those games. We won three of them, so I’m proud of our team.”
The Maple Leafs will be rewarded with a day off Sunday before starting their only trip this season through Western Canada. Wilson said he hadn’t started to look at the upcoming stops in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.
“(Sunday) I was going to do my Christmas shopping, that’s all I was thinking about,” he said. “I was either going as Santa Claus or Scrooge. Lose another game and your Sunday off is kind of miserable. That’s really the only thing I was thinking about—not the next few games out west.”
The trip should be interesting for Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf(notes), who will play in his hometown of Edmonton on Tuesday before making his first trip back to Calgary since being traded by the Flames. He’s looking forward to Thursday’s game at his former home rink.
“I don’t know why there would be any negative (reaction),” Phaneuf said. “It wasn’t my choice to move. Like I said, I had a lot of great times there and I made a lot of great friends out there. I played a lot of hockey in that building.
“I wouldn’t expect negative.”
The Maple Leafs have struggled in first periods recently, prompting Wilson to stress the importance of good starts. He finally got one as Toronto scored twice in the opening 20 minutes for the first time since Nov. 13.
It came against the tired Canadiens, who lost 4-2 in Detroit on Friday. They were flat early in a game that was played with an edge. Toronto’s Clarke MacArthur(notes) won an early one-sided fight against Jaroslav Spacek(notes), who was knocked out of the game.
“It was kind of a slow start, they jumped on us,” Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said. “We didn’t win enough individual battles.”
Mike Cammalleri had the lone goal for Montreal (18-10-2).
However, the speedy winger was left wondering about one that got away after he fired wide on a long breakaway opportunity early in the first period. Wilson said the turnover that led to that play was his team’s only mistake in the period.
Because the Canadiens were playing on back-to-back nights, goalie Alex Auld(notes) made a rare start in place of usual starter Carey Price(notes). He gave Montreal a chance to win by not allowing a goal in the final 2 1/2 periods.
Montreal pushed hard for the tying goal in the closing minutes, but Maple Leafs goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere(notes) stood tall. The boos that rained down during Thursday’s loss to Philadelphia were replaced by chants of “Go Leafs Go!”
Kessel wasted little time in putting an end to his seven-game goal drought. He charged hard to the net and knocked a loose puck behind Auld at 7:38 of the first period.
“He’s putting a lot of pressure on himself,” Giguere said of Kessel. “He’s our best player. When Phil is playing well—scoring goals and skating like he was tonight—it makes our team a lot more dangerous.”
It was just the 11th time in 29 games that the Maple Leafs led 1-0.
Toronto seized some momentum and went ahead 2-0 when Kaberle scored his first goal since March at 10:35.
Montreal seemed to find its legs in the second.
After being held to four shots in the opening 20 minutes, the Canadiens came out with a little more urgency. Cammalleri made it 2-1 at 14:38 with his 10th of the season, beating Giguere high with a shot the goalie appeared to have trouble seeing.
The Maple Leafs regrouped in the final period and kept the Canadiens from mounting a comeback.
“We did what it took to win the game,” Phaneuf said. “We were blocking shots, we were getting in the lanes and we were playing hard. We were competing to win puck battles.
“We played hard right from the start and all the way through. We won a big hockey game for our team.”
Notes: Kaberle scored for the first time in 35 games. … Scott Gomez(notes) missed his second straight game for Montreal because of a lower body injury. … Montreal recalled C David Desharnais(notes) from AHL Hamilton, but he didn’t play. … The announced attendance was 19,656, the largest crowd at Air Canada Centre this season.