On a night where hope springs eternal, Jean-Sebastien Giguere showed fans there may be some reason to believe.
Clarke MacArthur scored the game-winner, and Giguere made the best save of the game in the dying moments, as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday.
It was the first game for both clubs.
Tim Brent and Phil Kessel also scored for Toronto, and Dustin Boyd and Jeff Halpern replied for the Canadiens.
Toronto’s goaltending was its downfall in the team’s awful start a year ago, but Giguere was solid between the pipes all night, including a tremendous pad save off Brian Gionta with under a minute to play as the Canadiens’ had an extra attacker.
“He played really well,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson told reporters. “He focuses and battles every shot. Looking at the game, this is probably one that last year we’d get tied against in the last minute. Because of a couple of great saves, we ended up preserving the win.”
The 33-year-old stopped 26 of 28 shots.
And the Leafs’ looked much more confident shorthanded then they did a year ago, killing off all three penalties.
On the power play, the Leafs were erratic, unable to convert on five chances, and gave up a few shorthanded opportunities themselves that Giguere bailed them out from.
The Leafs took advantage of a Montreal squad without the services of a few key members. Winger Mike Cammalleri was serving a one-game suspension, and defencemen Andrei Markov and Roman Hamrlik both sat out with knee injuries.
MacArthur, making his Leaf debut, scored early in the third period, giving the blue-and-white a 3-1 lead. He pulled the puck around Canadiens’ defenceman Jaroslav Spacek, and then backhanded it past Price.
The Canadiens scored moments later after Mike Komisarek gave the puck away behind the Leafs’ net, and Halpern’s shot banked off the post, Francois Beachemin’s skate and in.
Toronto seemed to feed off an energized home crowd, out-shooting Montreal 12-7 and scoring two early goals.
AHL grad finds the mark
Brent opened the scoring, deflecting a shot by Dion Phaneuf over the shoulder of Carey Price.
The Cambridge native has spent five seasons in the AHL, but made the Maple Leafs’ squad with a strong pre-season, and displayed solid penalty-killing skills.
The Leafs went up 2-0 before the 10-minute mark of the first period when Kessel broke in alone on Price, and the goalie appeared to make the stop with his left pad, but the puck just trickled over the goal.
Boyd cut the Leafs’ lead to one when he brought the puck out from behind the net and put his own rebound behind Giguere.
Montreal buzzed around the Leafs net for much of the second period, with the defence pairing of Carl Gunnarsson and Komisarek particularly having problems getting the puck out of Toronto’s end.
The Habs outshot Toronto 10-5 in the frame, but Giguere was strong in net, making one spectacular pad save off Lars Eller on a scramble in the crease.
Phaneuf left the game early in the third period after a Montreal skate struck his leg, but the defenceman returned later in the frame.