Leafs stop the bleeding

Maple Leafs forward Matt Frattin (left) celebrates a goal against the Canadiens with teammates at...

Maple Leafs forward Matt Frattin (left) celebrates a goal against the Canadiens with teammates at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Que., March 3, 2012. (PIERRE-PAUL POULIN/QMI Agency)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:11 PM ET

TORONTO - One day too late, the Maple Leafs paid heed to Ron Wilson's final message.

Now it's up to new coach Randy Carlyle to keep pumping life into post-season hopes.

When he departed what would be his last practice on Friday after six straight losses, the haggard Wilson ended the scrum imploring : "We have to turn this thing around and get ourselves in the playoffs."

He was fired a few hours later and general manager Brian Burke's bench gamble paid off Saturday with a 3-1 win over the Canadiens. Mikhail Grabovski's first of two goals and three points, beating Leafs nemesis Carey Price, kept Toronto in sight of the Eastern pack, three points from eighth. Grabovski later absorbed a terrific check by Chris Campoli but stayed in the game, while Jonas Gustavsson survived a last-minute collision with Erik Cole for his career high 17th win in his 100th NHL game.

"It's obviously a nice way to start," said Carlyle, "to go in the opposition's building (the electric Bell Centre) and hold them to under 25 shots and score two in the third.

"I asked them to skate, to be themselves. We stayed with our game plan and our skilled players scored some goals.

"I knew Mikhail was tenacious, small in stature, but a big heart. He displayed that throughout the game. He goes in those tough areas. If he doesn't win his share, he gets back up, like the Energizer Bunny."

Grabovski, who scored an overtime goal here Oct. 22, beat Price twice after the latter had stopped 63 of 64 shots in two recent ACC wins. Carlyle briefly met the team Friday night and made some subtle changes to the Wilson model, knowing he couldn't overwhelm them with info in just one morning skate.

"He always wants the third guy high, he's really pushing that into our heads," defenceman Carl Gunnarsson said. "Most of the guys have played that system. It's not a huge difference. All the guys can adjust pretty quick. We have a couple of practices before our next game (Tuesday at home against Boston)."

The line with Grabovski, Matt Frattin and Clarke MacArthur out-stripped Phil Kessel's unit in ice time as Carlyle tried to get the dangerous Desharnais line locked up.

"Three years ago, I couldn't score here," the ex-Hab Grabovski said. "There were a lot of guys I played still with Montreal. Now it's much easier, no pressure."

Burke addressed a number of issues at his morning news conference, among them a concern that Wilson was being tuned out by the players and that he differed with his departing coach on the element of toughness in the lineup.

"Personally, I always listen to the coach," Grabovski said. "Maybe other players think differently. But I don't think anyone doesn't work hard on the ice when we play the game. I think everybody worked for Ron, but when something doesn't work it's not just his fault, it's all the players."

Schenn did not think the Leafs had been pushovers, but welcomed Carlyle's approach.

"If you look at Anaheim and Carlyle in the past, they've had tough teams. The NHL has changed since then in regards to pure fighters. But to play with team toughness and grit is something Anaheim did and I'm sure it will carry over here."

Save for Mike Brown landing some direct hits in a scrap with Brad Staubitz in the first period (Brown ended the game in the dressing room with a stiff neck), the Leafs were back to losing early puck battles and were stumbling on the opening goal. Gustavsson had two hiccups coming out of his net to field pucks and Schenn backed into Frattin to pen a lane on Cole's 23rd goal.

But The Monster recovered with a coupe of huge saves and a big poke check on a partial breakaway.

"In a game in here when both teams badly want to win, that's when anything can happen," said Gustavsson, recalling he and James Reimer both suffered injuries here in the past. "You have to be ready for anything."

One of Carlyle' biggest challenges begins with getting Nikolai Kulemin out of a season-long slump. With just seven goals during healthy ice time, Kulemin was to have gone back with Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur under Wilson's plan of Friday morning. Carlyle put the energetic Frattin in that right wing spot and moved Kulemin with David Steckel and Tim Connolly.

Schenn had known no other NHL coach but Wilson so it was a little harder to adjust on Saturday. But he welcomed some off-ice calm returning to the team in the coming days and less abuse at the ACC with Wilson fired.

"It was tough on everyone on the ice, goalies, defenceman and forwards all getting booed. And then when you're coaching the team, you're the big target. You felt bad for Ron, that 20,000 people are chanting to get you fired. But that's life in Toronto.

"Give him credit, he showed up every day and did his best to try and get us going."

Now that's Carlyle's burden.


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