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Leafs edge Habs, but it was certainly no classic

The game certainly did not lead up to it’s expectations. The Toronto Maple Leafs usually seem to bring out he best in the Montreal Canadiens, and vice versa. With a pair of valuable points on the line, you’d think it would make it a more exciting game.

Today’s cover of the Toronto Sun’s sports section featured a heated battle between Jean Beliveau, John Ferguson and other Habs as they protected their goal from the likes of Leafs legends Tim Horton and Frank Mahovlich.

Both sides, and their respective media and fans were expecting a great game. To paraphrase Ken Dryden, in his book “The Game,” who commented on the anticipation of a similar game he plated in between Montreal and Toronto, “We were duped.”

Five of the eight combined goals came on the power play, in a game that may have seen some of the weakest officiating all season. Before Leafs fans scream fowl, the poor and missed calls came from both ends.

Both opening goals were influenced by the officiating. Jeff Halpern‘s opening goal came after the Leafs felt an icing call should have been made. From as far as I could see, they were likely right. With no call, the puck went back up ice where Roman Hamrlik‘s shot bounced of his teammate past Leafs goalie James Reimer.

A highly questionable, hooking call on Brian Gionta, led to Phil Kessel‘s first goal of the night. The Canadiens captain found himself in the box on two consecutive occasions where the Leafs found the back of the net.

It was also a night that Alex Auld was called upon to give Carey Price a night off. Unfortunately Auld was the victim of poor defensive play and some precision Leafs shooting that resulted in three Leafs goals on nine shots. The second goal of the night was clearly on Auld and on a normal night, Jacques Martin may have kept him in. But seeing the game could get out of hand, he elected to put Price in goal.

As the Leafs continued to press, Price kept his team in the game. It easily could have been 5-1 Toronto, after 30 minutes.

Price’s play did spin the momentum back in Montreal’s way, as they replied with two power play goals from Mike Cammalleri and James Wisniewski, in the second period to tie it up.

That hope for a comeack was quickly squashed on another Leafs power play goal. With the eyes of four Habs defenders on Kessel, Tyler Bozak was left uncovered between the faceoff circles to fire the puck past Price. Oddly enough, the on ice officials didn’t even signal the goal. At least the zebras remained consistent.

We all know the Canadiens record after two periods, so the end result should not have been surprising. The third period didn’t get off to a much better start, when Bozak struck again early to give the Leafs a two goal lead. Max Pacioretty, who lead both teams in SOG with 9, got the Habs within one with just over two and a half minutes to play.

The Leafs then did a fantastic job of shutting down the Canadiens at the neutral zone, making it impossible for Price to get off the bench for the extra attacker.

A relieved Reimer, who probably felt he was going to be pulled at one point in the game as well, was greeted warmly by his teammates. The Leafs are not 4-0-1 since their last encounter with the Canadiens on February 12, much in thanks to the play of the Leafs rookie. Price, in the meantime, gets an undeserved loss on a night he was supposed to have off.

Toronto is also a surprising four points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and Phil Kessel, who finishedwith four points on the night, seems to have come to life at the right time.

The Canadiens will make the playoffs, barring a complete meltdown and will face Toronto one final time in the regular season finale. Could these two teams meet in the second round. That remains to be seen.

Montreal still sits in 6th place in the conference, but now sit four points back of division-leading Boston, who now have two games in hand.

Newly acquired Brent Sopel will be ready to join the team for their Saturday match with the Carolina Hurricanes. Jaroslav Spacek‘s season has not been completely ruled out, but he is expected to have an MRI on his knee in the coming days.

THREE STARS: 1. Phil Kessel 2. Tyler Bozak 3. Mike Cammalleri (Note: Max Pacioretty was named 3rd star on the Leafs telecast)

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