Sabres rattle Habs

Toronto Maple Leafs Darcy Tucker at team practice in Toronto, Friday, October 6, 2006. (Toronto...

Toronto Maple Leafs Darcy Tucker at team practice in Toronto, Friday, October 6, 2006. (Toronto Sun/David Lucas)

KEN FIDLIN

, Last Updated: 10:09 AM ET

BUFFALO -- Guy Carbonneau spent a fine NHL career creating a legacy of protecting third-period leads wherever he played.

Apparently he had an instinct for defence that has, at least to this point, eluded his Montreal Canadiens players.

Carbonneau was making his regular-season head coaching debut last night against the Buffalo Sabres, and his lads took a two-goal lead into the last five minutes of the third period, the part of the game where Carbonneau used to make his living.

A few minutes later, a bit dazed and disappointed, Carbonneau walked back to the dressing room, his anticipated first victory snatched away at crunch time.

A short-handed goal by Buffalo's Daniel Briere in the game's 56th minute was followed by another dagger to the heart, delivered by Maxim Afinogenov, with just 15 seconds left.

And it got worse from there.

After a scoreless overtime, the Habs took it on the chin in the dreaded shootout, Afinogenov pulled the trigger on the goal that ended the highly entertaining proceedings.

Needless to say, it will be a motivated collection of Canadiens who will be at the Air Canada Centre tonight, looking to take out their frustrations on the Maple Leafs.

Carbonneau seemed to take it all in stride but couldn't hide his irritation with the Briere goal. No coach, defensive guru or not, likes to see a two-goal lead disappear in the dying moments, especially on a power-play.

"It's always frustrating but you've got to learn from it," Carbonneau said. "I can't go on the ice. The people that I use have to get better.

"The Briere goal was most troubling. We had a five-on-four advantage and we knew the guy was coming out of the box. We leave the faceoff and the guy has a breakaway. That to me is hard to swallow.

"But we're going to turn around tomorrow, look at the tape and make sure those things don't happen again."

When last the Maple Leafs saw the Montreal Canadiens, the Habs were driving the final nails into the Toronto coffin last spring.

In the process, the Canadiens also ruined any notion Mikael Tellqvist would be a No. 1 goalie any time soon.

In back-to-back games at Montreal in the last week of March, their playoff hopes hanging by a thread, the Leafs were whipped in two gut-check games, 5-1 and 6-2.

From there, the Leafs went quietly into the off-season while the Canadiens snatched seventh place in the Eastern Conference and gave the Carolina Hurricanes a most significant scare on the way to the Stanley Cup.

Tonight, the ancient rivalry will be renewed at the Air Canada Centre, with the new-look Leafs hosting a Canadiens' team that appears almost identical to last year's hard-working outfit.

Off last night's game, played at warp speed, the Leafs are going to have their hands full with both the Sabres and Canadiens. This was exactly the kind of firewagon hockey the new NHL enforcement was designed to create. This Canadiens team is better than the 2005 version, even though they lost this one.

"We knew we were playing a great team, a team that the experts have picked to go to the Stanley Cup," Carbonneau said. "But over 50 minutes we had them beat by two goals."

The coach was grasping for some positives at this point. One of those positives was the play of Koivu, who scored Montreal's third and fourth goals and set up another by Chris Higgins.

But Koivu, who suffered a detached retina in his left eye last spring against Carolina, wasn't so enthused.

"It's nice to have our line contribute but it doesn't really feel that great," he said.

"When you have a 4-2 lead with less than five to go and you don't come out with two points, it's hard to take."

No kidding.

Just ask the coach.


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