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article imageLeafs continue to slip: Montréal hands Toronto 4th straight loss Special

By Dave Pitman     Mar 22, 2014 in Sports
Toronto - With their backs up against the wall, the Toronto Maple Leafs dropped a crucial game to Atlantic Division rivals the Montréal Canadiens Saturday night at the Air Canada Center.
"You have to turn the page, there's no looking back on today, tomorrow. Tomorrow's a new day, we've got to pull ourselves out of it. We've been close, but close isn't good enough right now. We know were going to get out of it, we just have to find a way…" Said captain Dion Phaneuf after the loss.
The day began with some good news in Toronto; After missing 56 consecutive games with torn ligaments in his ankle, Dave Bolland would return to the lineup for the first time since November 2nd in Vancouver. The Leafs were 10-4 with Bolland in the lineup and have missed his physical presence and ability to score goals in big moments. Forwards Peter Holland and Carter Ashton were assigned to the AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies to make room for Bolland's return.
The Leafs and Canadiens have a storied history, where they have met 723 times. On the current season, this would be the fifth time the two would meet, with the season series split 2-2 prior to puck drop.
James Reimer would get the call in net for Toronto, his sixth consecutive start with regular starter Jonathan Bernier still nursing his pulled groin injury suffered in Los Angeles. On the other end, recent Olympic gold medal winner Carey Price would start in goal coming off a strong performance in Columbus where he made 40 saves just two nights prior.
Similar to Wednesday nights loss, the first period showcased five goals in the opening frame. Just over five minutes in, a Phil Kessel turnover presented Max Pacioretty with an opportunity to bury the first of the night, and he would not let that opportunity slip. Less than a minute later, Rene Bourque would break free and score his ninth goal of the season to put the Canadiens up 2-0. The Montréal Canadiens boasted a 30-4-2 record when scoring first entering the game, so climbing back would be no easy task for the Maple Leafs. Midway through the period, Mason Raymond made a tape-to-tape pass to Joffrey Lupul who unloaded on the one-timer beating Price over the shoulder. The goal was Lupul's 20th of the season, making him the third Leafs forward to reach 20 goals on the year. Phil Kessel was buzzing around the Montréal net for a large part of the period and he would assist on the tying goal, feeding Tyler Bozak with a perfect pass as Bozak tipped home his 16th. The Canadiens wouldn't sit back, though. With less than a minute remaining in the period, Brian Gionta threw a soft shot toward the net from the point that would deflect off Leafs defenceman Tim Gleason and squeak by Reimer. The period would end with the Canadiens leading 3-2, out shooting the Leafs 14-13. Dave Bolland's first period since November 2nd was exciting for fans, but the coaching staff planned to ease Bolland back into action. He would finish with seven shifts, 3:14 total ice time, three hits, and three-for-three on the face-off circle in the period.
The second period began with many more scoring chances for both teams, but a solid performance in net from both goaltenders kept the score the same. Both Jake Gardiner and Morgan Reilly hit the crossbar in the frame, but the score sheet would not change. The start of the third period, however, would see Toronto even it up on the Power Play. The Maple Leafs Powerplay when at home is currently the NHL's best, with a 25 percent success rate. Joffrey Lupul held the puck behind the net showing great patience to find Nazem Kadri out front for his 18th of the season. The deadlock would sway back in the favour of the Canadiens however as Tomas Plekanec would score the game winning goal on an awkward angle from the side of the net.
"They got the bounces. That's sometimes how these games are decided." James Reimer told media post game.
Reimer has not won a start in Toronto since January 15th. Despite the lack of success, Reimer remains optimistic, as he's known to do. With that said, Reimer understands the team has slipped in the standings over the last week and the tone in the room reflects that.
"There's a healthy sense of urgency in here." Reimer added.
"That one stings. We did some good things, we did some bad things… But at the end of the day, we gotta get ready for Jersey…", said Mason Raymond post game, in his usual stern tone, "Call it what you want I guess, at the end of the day we're not getting the two points."
The Leafs chances of missing the playoffs grow stronger with each passing day as the rest of the Eastern conference continue to play well. Frustration clearly looms in the locker room with both the players and the coaches.
"We win and lose as a team. We look at it and say the work ethic has been strong, the execution is what we need to get better at." noted coach Randy Carlyle in his post game presser. When asked the status of Jonathan Bernier, Carlyle informed reporters that while he is feeling better, Bernier would not make the trip to New Jersey Sunday night for the tail end of the back-to-back. Drew MacIntyre will remain with the club and potentially start versus the Devils.
The Devils currently sit 11th in the East and will expectantly put forth a desperate 60 minutes of hockey tomorrow night in New Jersey. The Maple Leafs will need to match the level of desperation in order to succeed, and the Leafs captain is confident in his group.
"We're still in a good spot… There's no doubt about how hard we've worked all year to put ourselves in this spot and obviously we've slid a bit because of not winning games but we're still right there. Tomorrow's a new day and its a huge game for our team. We're going to stay upbeat, its not a time to sit here and feel sorry for ourselves."
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