March 21, 2010
A furious finish awaits Leafs-HabsPlenty may be at stake for season-ending showdown
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
TORONTO -- The 3-2 shootout win by the last-place Maple Leafs over Montreal on Saturday only sets the table for the series and regular season wrapup on April 10 at the Bell Centre.
Though they missed a chance for a seventh consecutive win — and a jump into fifth place in the Eastern Conference — the Canadiens still can pick up ground, facing five teams currently out of the post-season picture in their 10 remaining games.
And Toronto could need the points at the end to get out of the bottom three draft positions, with Boston owning their first pick. Seven Leafs wins in the past nine games, topped by the resolve shown Saturday, sets up an interesting closure to the schedule.
“We just weren’t on our game,” Brian Gionta of the Canadiens said, though he contributed both goals on Saturday.
“A team like (Toronto), they’re going to take advantage of that and we were playing catchup the whole game because of that.”
Leafs coach Ron Wilson already is musing about his goaltending plans for the 10th, which would have been Jonas Gustavsson’s start based on current rotation with Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
“I’d like Jiggy to play that game because of his (Quebec) background,” Wilson said. “I had told them they’re going to split every other game and it might change here or there. But (Gustavsson) has a winning record now, 14-13, and he’s done the job.”
The Leafs already have helped Montreal by defeating Ottawa in the course of the six-game Battle of Ontario to leave the Senators vulnerable to be passed. Montreal launched five games in eight nights against the Leafs, hoping to have injured winger Mike Cammalleri (26 goals) and defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron back early next week.
“We just want to make the playoffs, that’s the main thing,” top point man Tomas Plekanec said.
Without the hoopla and distraction which their 100th anniversary party created last season and with the shock of general manager Bob Gainey’s resignation wearing off, the Canadiens have come out of the weeds at the back of the playoff pack where other clubs have faltered.
The game Saturday meant a lot to Leafs defenceman Francois Beauchemin, who grew up a Canadiens fans in Sorel, Que. He has two siblings and a raft of cousins following his progress.
“They’re all Leaf fans,” Beauchemin said without hesitation. “Sorel was just an hour away from Montreal and they were my favourite team growing up, but I had a Ray Bourque (Boston) poster over my bed.
“Right now, it doesn’t matter who we play or how young we are (greenest roster in the league), we’re trying to get things solidified in here.”