MONTREAL – The Canadiens fell to the League’s top team on Saturday night, dropping a 5-3 decision to the Maple Leafs.
Claude Julien’s players were looking sharp for their first appearance at the Bell Centre since February 11.
Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: Rien de mieux qu’un match du samedi contre nos vieux rivaux. Nothing better than a Saturday night matchup against our old rivals.#GoHabsGo | @RONAinc pic.twitter.com/0T2UP4wwbW
Forward Paul Byron, who cleared waivers earlier in the week, was in the lineup for the fourth battle of the season between the two teams.
Tomas Tatar was also in uniform after being a healthy scratch last Saturday night in Toronto.
Carey Price, meanwhile, made his 10th start of the year.
During the pregame warmup, young gun Nick Suzuki sported some special gear to celebrate Black History Month.
Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: Un aper��u des patins de Nick Suzuki �� l’effigie de Willie O’Ree soulignant le Mois de l’histoire des Noirs.A closer look at @nsuzuki_37’s custom Willie O’Ree-themed skates in celebration of Black History Month.#NHLBlackHistory pic.twitter.com/gLyQIfMyMv
There were no goals to report during a spirited first period.
Both teams traded prime scoring chances, but Price and Maple Leafs starter Frederik Andersen were on top of their respective games.
Price turned aside 13 shots and made several highlight-reel stops in the opening 20 minutes, including this one on right-winger William Nylander.
He followed that up with this miraculous desperation glove save on right-winger Ilya Mikheyev.
For his part, Andersen made 10 stops to keep things scoreless at the break.
The Maple Leafs came roaring out of the gates in the middle frame, though, scoring two power play goals in a span of 15 seconds.
Centerman Auston Matthews started things off by blasting a one-timer by Price off a perfect feed by Mitch Marner at the 1:05 mark of the period.
Matthews’ League-leading 17th goal of the season came on a two-man advantage, and it extended his point streak to 16 straight games.
Fellow pivot Travis Boyd put Sheldon Keefe’s squad up by a pair when he capped a nice passing play with a tap-in tally on Price.
But the Canadiens responded with two goals of their own 33 seconds apart to level the scoreline.
First, Jesperi Kotkaniemi beat Andersen on a breakaway with a sweet wrist shot upstairs at the 3:24 mark of the frame.
It was the 20-year-old Finn’s second goal of the year, and it snapped an 11-game goal drought.
Tatar and Joel Edmundson collected the assists.
Then, Byron scored his first goal of the season with an outstanding individual effort to tie things up.
Unfortunately, Marner put the Maple Leafs back in front with 7:31 elapsed in the period.
He solved Price on the tail end of a 2-on-1.
Matthews struck again with his second goal of the night and 18th of the year courtesy of another power play goal at the 15:05 mark of the stanza.
His trademark wrist shot from the slot beat Price through traffic and gave Toronto a 4-2 lead.
That’s the way things stood at the break with Montreal outshooting their North Division rivals by a 26-21 margin.
Centerman Alexander Kerfoot gave Toronto a 5-2 lead with 6:24 remaining in regulation, capping an odd-man rush with an easy tally off a pass from Jason Spezza.
Tyler Toffoli cut the lead to 5-3 by scoring his team-leading 11th goal of the season for the Canadiens with 1:26 left before the final buzzer.
Alexander Romanov and Brendan Gallagher collected the assists.
That was as close as the Habs would get, unfortunately.
Price made 22 saves in the loss, while Andersen stopped 30 shots to pick up his League-leading 11th victory.
The Canadiens will be back in action on Sunday night when they visit the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre.
It will mark the start of a four-game road trip that features a second matchup against the Senators on Tuesday, before the team heads to Manitoba for a pair of contests versus the Winnipeg Jets.