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Giddy Pacioretty and Habs too much for sluggish Leafs to handle

Montreal Canadiens' Max Pacioretty, right, is congratulated by teammate Lars Eller following a shorthanded goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during second period NHL hockey action Saturday, November 30, 2013 in Montreal.


"Bit of a hot-dog move."

"That was what stirred the pot."

Nope, the Toronto Maple Leafs' Nazem Kadri and Randy Carlyle didn't appreciate Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty's stick-twirl-and-holster celebration after his second goal of the night, which gave the Habs a 4-0 second period lead in a game they would eventually win 4-2.

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Although to be fair, Kadri later added "it's not a big deal I don't think," and Carlyle mostly seemed peeved that it took the added sting of a showy goal celebration to prompt any kind of an emotional response from his team.

It did – they scored 48 seconds later and added another 22 seconds after that.

After that,  they didn't have what it took to reel in a smaller, quicker Habs team that nevertheless seemed to win every meaningful physical battle.

When Daniel Brière and Brian Gionta are among the ones grinding you into dust, it's not your night.

And perhaps Pacioretty's enthusiasm might be understandable.

Hey, when you've scored seven goals in your last nine home periods – and matched your career-best 10 shots on goal in a game – it's the sort of indulgence you can afford.

Happy as he was after his two-goal outing, Pacioretty's main priority was to shave off his Movember whiskers – that despite a month that has seen him score seven of his nine goals on the year.

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Uh, Max, you're doing it wrong; properly superstitious players tend to resist change.

"Can't wait [to shave] . . . If I doubt myself, I'll think of the first two weeks of the month," he said (good point, Pacioretty had one assist and no goals in seven games from Nov. 1-15).

When Pacioretty is in this kind of mood – he scored two, set up one, matched his career-high with 10 shots on goal, and killed some penalties in his spare time – the Montreal Canadiens are a heavy load to handle.

The arch-rival Toronto Maple Leafs learned that to their detriment, coming out slowly against a fired-up Habs team that held off a late-game rally to capture their fifth win in six games.

The Leafs started the game brightly enough, and nearly had a two-on-one in their first rush up ice, but as it was Carl Gunnerson took an interference penalty just 20 seconds in rather than letting Pacioretty go around him at the Toronto blue line.

Thirty-eight seconds later, Montreal's P.K. Subban scooped up the puck behind his own net, spotted Pacioretty lurking near the opposing blue line and whipped a tape-to-tape pass to spring the big American on a breakaway.

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"I wasn't that open, it was such a perfect pass, it was, I don't know if he planned it like that, but their D were gapping up and they were right in the middle of their pivot, so that's why I had so much time. I don't know if he's that good, but catching them in their pivot, then they had to try and turn around and got flat-footed," Pacioretty said.

Jonathan Bernier foiled the initial attempt, but Pacioretty was allowed to take three more whacks at the loose puck, the last of which went into the goal.

"I watch a lot of Thomas Vanek, who's a guy who always stops in front of the net, whatever it takes to score a goal. Maybe when I'm struggling I might do a fly-by there and get upset with myself, but right now I'm just playing off instinct," he said.

Asked after the game whether he'd ever had anyone have enough time to take four solid swipes at the puck, the Leafs netminder, who stopped 35 of 39 shots in a losing effort, said "I've never had that happen on a breakaway, no . . . it was a good play on his part."

With just under four minutes to play in the period, Pacioretty turned provider, grabbing the puck off a faceoff to Bernier's right to make a short pass to Subban, who shimmied past a Toronto defender and let fly with a quick wrist shot that went past a screened Bernier.

It was his first goal in 12 games, his two points drew him to within three of Ottawa's Erik Karlsson for the league lead in scoring among defencemen.

The Leafs will have felt hard done by in the first intermission – they had a Dion Phaneuf goal chalked off after James Van Riemsdyk was judged to have interfered with Price, though the Toronto forward had his feet on the blue paint, it was a highly debatable call.

The visitors, supported as always by a sizable contingent of loud Leafs fans, nearly chopped the lead in half in the opening seconds of the second period, but Phil Kessel's backhand with Carey Price down and out caromed off the foot of the post and was cleared to safety.

The Habs made it 3-0 at 15:05 of the second when Subban kept the puck in the Toronto end after some good work along the boards by Brière. It was chased down by Gionta, who fed the puck back to Brière, then Tomas Plekanec golfed the winger's astute pass into the far side of the Toronto goal as Bernier slid across.

Montreal made it 4-0 when Pacioretty notched his second of the night while the Habs were down a man, beating Gunnarson in a one-on-one battle to score on a back-hand that skittered through Bernier's legs.

But just 48 seconds after that, the Leafs finally solved Price. Posted at the right of the Montreal goal, Van Riemsdyk lifted a delicate little shot into the top corner.

And 22 seconds later they narrowed the gap to two when a rebound found Mason Raymond in almost the same spot where Van Riemsdyk scored, he simply shuffled the puck home for his ninth of the year.

Thanks to some scintillating play in the third from Price – who stoned Tyler Bozak, Kessel and Van Riemsdyk on glorious chances – it was the closest they would get to putting their noses out front.

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More


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