The Montreal Canadiens were in need of a pick-me-up to soothe the frayed nerves of fan base dismayed by their terrible start, so a new pre-game video montage made its debut, as did Quebec chanteuse Ima, who replaced the usual anthem singer.
The Habs’ creative department will evidently have to try harder.
The team that seemingly can’t lose erased three Montreal leads to send the team that can’t win down to its fifth consecutive defeat and sixth in seven games to open the season.
Toronto Maple Leafs centre Mikhail Grabovski, the former Hab, shovelled the overtime winner past Carey Price, giving the Leafs a 5-4 victory, after making a swanky move to bring the puck out from behind the net that confounded Montreal defenceman Hal Gill.
“It’s a little bit special,” conceded a beaming Grabovski, whose family made the trek from Toronto, “I know a lot of people in Montreal, I have a lot of friends here.”
Asked if he could hear the booing when he touched the puck, Grabovski laughed that “no, I just hear when (former Hab Mike) Komisarek touches the puck.”
After Grabovski’s goal the Toronto bench poured onto the ice as if it were a playoff game, and in some sense it was a momentous occasion - the Habs are now officially off to the worst start in more than 70 years.
And with Winnipeg’s 5-3 defeat of Carolina, are the new occupants of the Eastern Conference basement.
The main talking point in Montreal is the Habs’ lengthening skid, but the Leafs also have concerns to deal with after his game.
Namely, the health of Leafs netminder James Reimer, the man on whom so much depends.
Reimer appeared shaken up after Montreal captain Brian Gionta clipped him in the head as he cut across the front of the crease.
He took off his mask and kneeled for a few seconds, but carried on to finish the period despite suffering another hard bump on Montreal’s opening goal.
But the Leafs’ number one netminder couldn’t come out for the second, and did not return to the Toronto bench.
Toronto coach Ron Wilson said after the game that Reimer was suffering from whiplash-like symptoms and that “he could have finished the game” but the decision was made to withdraw him in favour of Jonas Gustavsson as a precaution.
He will be re-evaluated on Sunday.
“I hope he’s okay,” said winger Clarke MacArthur, “he’s a big part of our team.”
So could a team that made the conference finals two short years ago and came within a goal of upsetting the Stanley Cup champs last year suddenly be an entrant in the Nail Yakupov sweepstakes?
Doubtful, and the Habs are relentlessly focused on the positives.
“There’s a lot of games left. We’ll get better,” said centre Lars Eller, Montreal’s most dangerous player on the night.
Winger Michael Cammalleri, who scored in the third period, said “I thought we executed better, we had a lot of tape-to-tape passes, we were crisper . . . we only need to be a little bit better and I think we’ll be successful.”
And goaltender Carey Price, who has offered some spotty performances, kept his team in the game in the third period - making two outrageous saves, including one where he reached back with his paddle to stifle a goal-bound shot.
If it’s possible to give up five goals and still play well, Price did that.
The overtime point may take some of the pressure off coach Jacques Martin, but this is plainly a beleaguered team that is in considerable disarray.
How else to explain three blown leads and a pair of too-many-men penalties, including one on the power-play?
The Habs have a lot to talk about.
Martin said he liked the way his team battled on the night - despite surrendering seven power-plays to Toronto, which yielded a pair of goals - and that the inability to protect a third-period lead may be a by-product of an injury-riddled blue line.
“We three young D who don’t have a lot of experience in the National Hockey League,” he said.
The Canadiens will also rue the fact that their power-play has now scored just two goals in 29 attempts - they managed to squander a minute-long five-on-three.
Not to be unkind, but the coaches may have thought to send someone other than the willing, but limited Mathieu Darche out on the first wave.
The Canadiens typically take Sundays off when they play a Saturday night game at home, but this week they have been summoned to a meeting and will likely skate.
If there is a disconnect between the level of panic among those in the room and their fans, the distance might be shortened if Montreal can’t find a way to beat the Florida Panthers on Monday.
Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf said the victory, in which the Leafs were outplayed for long stretches, was particularly encouraging.
“It’s a big win for us in a lot of different ways . . . we go down, and you look at the way we really didn’t stop playing our game,” he said, “it shows what kind of group we have.”
Added MacArthur: “when we’re skating there’s not too many teams that can keep up with us.”
Toronto was in Carey Price’s kitchen all night, and drove the net relentlessly - on the tying goal in the third, four Leafs were in the blue semi-circle - a tactic that Montreal evidently couldn’t handle.
The Canadiens opened the scoring a few moments after MacArthur forced Price into a good save.
With Gionta in the box for running into Reimer, Steckel made a loose pass in the Montreal end that sent Lars Eller and Travis Moen away on a short-handed two-on-one.
Eller’s astute pass put Moen in behind Phaneuf and he held off Steckel’s desperation hook to slide the puck past Reimer, bowling him over for good measure.
The lead was short-lived.
Barely five minutes later Steckel made up for his earlier error by tipping a Jake Gardiner point shot off Price and into the net.
It was a tetchy first period with both goaltenders having to deal with plenty of contact in the crease, Montreal’s P.K. Subban infuriated Leafs tough guys Mike Brown and Ken Rosehill by taking a healthy run at Toronto centre Mikhail Grabovski at centre ice.
The Belarusian - and former Hab - earned a shower of boos a little later on after Price dragged him down in a goalmouth melee. He took his time clambering off the Montreal netminder, knocking his mask off in the process.
The Habs wasted little time welcoming Gustavsson into the game.
Eller picked up the puck in his own end, shed two checkers and set sail for the Leafs net, his shot attempt pinged off Mike Komisarek and landed on Andrei Kostitsyn’s blade, the big winger ripped a trademark wrister into the far top corner 29 seconds in to the frame.
Again, the Leafs riposte was swift.
A mere 36 seconds later, Toronto’s Matthew Lombardi harried Hab defenceman Josh Gorges as he wheeled around his own net, and when the puck slipped off his stick, Phil Kessel was on hand to scoop up the turnover and pop a quick wrist shot past Price, who had no time to get set.
Then Rosehill, who also drew the penalty that lead to Toronto’s opener, goaded Yannick Weber into a high-sticking penalty with the Leafs buzzing in the Montreal end.
On the ensuing power-play Montreal’s Raphael Diaz broke his stick, and after Gionta handed him his, the Leafs threw the puck around until it came to Dion Phaneuf at the point, and he blasted an unstoppable slapshot into the far corner.
Rosehill, the Leafs enforcer, had a busy night, he also chased Subban down as he tried to gather a loose puck and knocked him down from behind into the boards, where the flashy Habs defenceman collided awkwardly with his shoulder.
The referees waved play on.
On another occasion, Hal Gill and Phaneuf exchanged angry words after the Toronto captain slammed him into the side wall.
Another set-to resulted when Erik Cole bumped Toronto’s Nazem Kadri into Price’s net. In the melee that followed, Price gave the rookie’s helmet a swipe with his goal stick and earned a penalty for his trouble (it was served by Cole, who administered a three-part facewash to Kadri and he sat in the dislodged net.) Montreal stepped up the pressure late in the period and nearly tied the game through Tomas Plekanec, who was sent in alone on net by Gionta but couldn’t get the puck past Gustavsson despite two whacks at it.
Plekanec was also foiled by Reimer in the first period on a back-door play created by Mike Cammalleri, Montreal’s most dangerous forward on the night along with Eller.
There were obviously a few home truths discussed during the intermission in the Montreal room, because the Habs quickly tied the game in the third.
Subban’s gorgeous diagonal pass found Cammalleri lurking at the Toronto blue line, and he skated in toward the faceoff dot before hammering a slap shot high to Gustavsson’s glove side.
When Josh Gorges’ shot found its way through a thicket of bodies - Moen got a stick on the puck for his second of the night - there was something very like catharsis in the Bell Centre.
But the Habs couldn’t build on their lead despite long stretches of sustained pressure, and when a team is scuffling like this, such profligacy is not permissible.
The Leafs duly tied the game when a Grabovski shot produced a furious scramble in front of Price, who stopped Phaneuf close in, but Nikolai Kulemin was on hand to swat the puck into the open side of the net.
The Leafs had a decent opportunity to win the game in regulation, but Carl Gunnarsson’s slap shot was turned away by Price’s left pad.
There is clearly no love lost between these teams, Price appeared to give Grabovski an earful at the end of regulation as the Leafs centre jawed with Gorges.Report Typo/Error