The Canadian Press
TORONTO — Not only did Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens crash the party, they did their best to spoil it.
Price turned aside all 32 shots he faced Saturday as the Habs hammered the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-0 on a night the team honoured long-time captain Mats Sundin.
It was the third straight loss for the Leafs, who remain in eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. Montreal has won four games in a row and now sits seven points back of the final playoff spot.
Erik Cole, Rene Bourque, Max Pacioretty, Lars Eller and Mathieu Darche scored goals for Montreal (23-24-9).
The Maple Leafs saw their record drop to 28-22-6 with their most embarrassing loss since getting beaten 7-0 by Boston on Nov. 5.
There was more emotion than usual on a night that started with the Maple Leafs raising Sundin’s No. 13 banner to the rafters at Air Canada Centre. During a thoughtful speech, Mats Sundin urged fans to embrace their young team because of how difficult it can be to play hockey in Toronto.
Less than two hours later, the Leafs were being booed off the ice after 40 minutes.
Montreal seized control during a second period that saw it score four times on seven shots against James Reimer. Cole started the barrage at 5:01 with a shot through the goalie’s legs, Bourque made it 2-0 less than two minutes later with a one-timer and Pacioretty squeaked a shot past Reimer at 15:54.
That goal came with Leafs forward Tim Connolly in the penalty box for slashing — making it the first time in 18 games the team had surrendered a goal while shorthanded.
For good measure, Eller made it 4-0 at 18:54 after skating right around Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf and beating Reimer, prompting a loud series of boos from the sellout crowd.
Ron Wilson sent Jonas Gustavsson out for the third period, no doubt reviving the goaltending debate in the process. The Monster fared only marginally better than his counterpart, getting beaten by Darche on a breakaway just 1:29 into the period.
Price secured his fourth shutout of the season after seeing two Toronto shots hit the post in the final 20 minutes. He also stood tall during a late power play.
The Habs goaltender had to be sharp in the early stages of the game. He stopped a tricky Clarke MacArthur shot in the opening minutes and denied Phil Kessel on a partial breakaway shortly after.
Toronto goalie, James Reimer was also tested a couple times during a first period that saw the Leafs outshoot the visitors 14-8. He looked solid until Cole opened the scoring.
It was just one week ago the Leafs registered an impressive 5-0 victory in Ottawa and looked poised to make a climb up the standings. But after beating Edmonton on Monday, they dropped a game in Winnipeg on Tuesday and Philadelphia on Thursday and now face a tough three-game swing through western Canada.
Montreal dug a big hole early in the season but is doing its best to keep slim playoff hopes alive. The Habs return home to face Carolina and Boston next week and need to keep winning.
Notes: It was the 16th shutout of Price’s NHL career … The Leafs had US$7.5 million in salary in the press box with Colby Armstrong and Mike Komisarek scratched. Both players are alternate captains for the team … Kessel and Mikhail Grabovski each wore an “A” in their absence … Travis Moen, Ryan White and Yannick Weber sat out for Montreal … Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was among the announced crowd of 19,685.