Leafs efforts pay off against Habs

Tomas Kaberle and Phil Kessel celebrate the Leafs 3-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens at the Air...

Tomas Kaberle and Phil Kessel celebrate the Leafs 3-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens at the Air Canada Centre on December 11, 2010. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:46 AM ET

The theme of Saturday at the Air Canada Centre was remembering the past, but the most vital flashback for Tomas Kaberle was that Maple Leafs defencemen are allowed to score.

On what was billed as Homecoming Night with 14 famous alumni in the house, the Leafs summoned a little Original Six karma for a badly needed 3-1 win over the Canadiens for their fickle fans. Taking full advantage of the Habs playing the night before and not using ace Carey Price in net, the Leafs scored early and kept the Habs in check, while the crowd kept its Eggos in check from another waffle-shaped missile attack.

Kaberle assisted on the frost-bitten Phil Kessel’s first goal in eight games and then fired his first of the year, just the fourth by a Leafs blueliner this season, and first game winner by a defenceman.

“You look at the standings (Montreal leads the division, Toronto is last) and we still have a lot to prove,” Kaberle said. “We have a lot better team in here than we’ve been showing lately.

“Saturday nights are a big night for everyone (a season-high 19,656 were there). There are a lot of families watching, a lot of opposition guys are from here and have families watching as well. They’re always good-paced hockey games against Montreal.”

Kaberle snapped a wrist shot past Alex Auld midway through the first period for a two-goal lead, which threatened to get away from the Leafs at times, but was finally settled on a Kris Versteeg empty netter. For Kaberle, 14 of his 81 Leafs goals have come against Montreal.

“Kabba had a nice goal by jumping in the play and he didn’t pass when he had the shot,” noted coach Ron Wilson. “The other was a quick play up, Kabba dumped it, we won the race and Phil stayed in the battle and scored. Kabba blocked shots and had one of his better games of the year.”

The Leafs now head to Western Canada for three games, a joyful reunion for about half the team with connections in that part of the country. Captain Dion Phaneuf will be inundated in Alberta, but Toronto is 2-7 the past three years in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver and lost to the Canucks and Oilers here, so Saturday was huge as winger Fredrik Sjostrom said “to put some wind in our sails.”

Thursday’s loss to the Flyers was the perfect brew of boos, Lous and Bouch, with the Leafs falling behind early. Lou Franceschetti was the special guest and Brian Boucher was in goal for Philadelphia. The 4-1 loss ended with a fan flinging waffles on the ice and some were no doubt warming up their throwing arm Saturday afternoon.

But the early lead and presence of Darryl Sittler, Wendel Clark and Johnny Bower appeased the grousers.

Todd Warriner, who scored the first goal in ACC history, and Steve Thomas, who beat the Habs in overtime the same night, were also honoured.

Each Leaf warmed up with a sweater of an alumni player and Nazem Kadri was given Wilson’s No. 14 from the Roger Neilson era, on the night Wilson won his 75th game to tie his own Toronto mentor.

“(Sunday) I was going to do my Christmas shopping and I was either going as Santa Claus or Scrooge,” Wilson said of the relief the win brought him. “Lose another game and your Sunday off is going to be miserable.”

The Leafs put the boots to Montreal early, but Wilson conceded his team got carried away with the 2-0 lead as the second period opened.

“With a young team, we got a little cock-sure going out there. We got very sloppy, turned pucks over and were slow to get to pucks. But the end of the day, we went 3-2 on the week. A lot of people thought we wouldn’t win one game (against Boston, Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Montreal).”

In goal, Jean-Sebastien Giguere forced Montreal’s Mike Cammalleri wide on the Habs’ lone first-period chance and the latter’s wrist shot was the only one of 23 shots to beat the Toronto netminder.

Winger Sjostrom had a key last-minute shot block that led to Versteeg’s goal. Sjostrom also assisted on Kaberle’s goal.

“We still have a lot of flaws we have to take care of,” the ex-Flame warned. “But right now, the two points are all that matters.

“I won’t get as much publicity as Dion in Calgary, but hopefully we can kicked their ass.”


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