It was an odd statement from a coach whose team had just won 5-1, but then Randy Carlyle wasn’t in a mood Saturday night to break into a song and dance. It was another lop-sided score in a game between Carlyle’s Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, and while the atmosphere at the Air Canada Centre whispered playoff preview, Carlyle left the distinct sense of a coach perplexed.
Perhaps it was a deliberate step toward arresting expectations, after his team sent Carey Price to the bench eight minutes into the game and his own goaltender, James Reimer, won for the sixth time in regulation in seven games. Whatever, it was as if somebody smuggled in evil old Ron Wilson for the night.
“I don’t think it was an atypical Montreal-Toronto hockey game,” Carlyle, the Leafs coach said as he moved away from the microphone, ending his post-game news conference, letting the phrase hang in the air after saying he’d need to remind his team about maturity and focus (his words), grousing about how “you can’t jump on people when you win 5-1,” and fouling off a softball question about how good his first line was in a game when it scored two goals and collected five points. “Outside of the power-play, I thought it was pretty good,” he said of Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk.
Bozak opened the scoring one minute and 59 seconds into the game and Kessel scored the fifth goal 4:42 into the second period, after which the two teams accomplished a whole lot of nothing.
Canadiens had allowed 16 first-period goals all season until the Leafs scored four in what was the shortest start of Price’s career. On a night when Price was breaking in new goaltending pads in preparation for the playoffs, he was lifted after letting in three goals on four shots (Leo Komarov and Jay McClement scored after Bozak, with Davis Drewiskie’s goal at 13:08 giving the Canadiens a flicker of life.) It was his replacement, Peter Budaj, who let in the fourth goal by Dion Phanuef and the fifth by Kessel, and Carlyle made note of Price’s woes at the start of his post-game briefing. His team was “fortunate” to catch Price on an off-night, he said, and stated simply that he’d hate to be the next team to face Price. “A lot of things – bounces – went our way,” Carlyle said.
It was his replacement, Peter Budaj, who let in the fifth, and Carlyle made note of Price’s woes at the start of his post-game briefing. His team was “fortunate” to catch Price on an off-night, he said, and stated simply that he’d hate to be the next team to face Price. “A lot of things – bounces – went our way,” Carlyle said.
Still, Carlyle was not entirely sour-faced. His first line received kudos for not getting into a game of trading chances when it was five-on-five and Jake Gardiner, who hasn’t had an easy time falling in step, played a team-high 23:57, while defence partner Ryan O’Byrne logged 19:15 and led the team with seven hits and three blocked shots. It was one of Gardiner’s best games, according to Carlyle. “He wasn’t a liability defensively.”
These teams face each other again in the final game of the regular season and it is possible that they could be playoff opponents. There was the requisite nastiness – Nazem Kadri had a thing going all night with Lars Eller and Brendan Gallagher, and P.K. Subban said afterward that “it’s easy to chirp and talk when you’re up 5-1,” – but other than Subban’s minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct in the third period following a snow-shower given out to Reimer, there was more talk than action.
The ACC crowd twice mocked the Canadiens with ‘Ole, ole,’ chants in the third period but by that point the game had become a kind of phony war. The seats emptied quickly, with the lower bowl showing gaps of seats with five minutes still remaining.
Even Subban’s statement about chirping was delivered with nothing resembling an edge, and when he was pressed about whether the rivalry was heating up he responded with a shrug. “I’ll talk about the game, not the rivalry,” said the Canadiens defenceman.
It was a big win late in the season for the Leafs, a significant step toward ending a playoff drought, but if there was any type of marker laid down, it appeared lost on the winners as well as the losers.