Leafs look­ing to end los­ing Hab-it

Montreal Gazette - - SPORTS - LANCE HORNBY

Here’s ev­ery­thing the Toronto Maple Leafs could want: Satur­day night, na­tional TV against their old­est ri­vals and the stands full of their “real” fans.

“They spent their own dough to get here and they came here to see us,” Reg­gie Dun­lop would snarl if Mike Bab­cock could bring the Slap Shot star back for a pre-game dress­ing-room ad­dress.

But this big­gest reg­u­lar-sea­son stage for the Leafs, lin­ing up against the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens, is get­ting to be a pain in the pos­terieur. When they ar­rive at the Bell Cen­tre, the Leafs will be try­ing to end a streak of 14 con­sec­u­tive losses to the Habs (0-10-4).

“Thanks for re­mind­ing me,” winger James van Riems­dyk said af­ter Wed­nes­day’s 6-3 loss to the New Jer­sey Devils ended the Leafs’ un­de­feated start at three and put more em­pha­sis on a win Satur­day. “Hope­fully we can change that and have a good talk af­ter.”

Van Riems­dyk had Toronto’s last win­ning goal against the Cana­di­ens, a 5-3 vic­tory in Toronto back on Jan. 18, 2014. Tyler Bozak, one of only five Leafs still on the team with JVR, Nazem Kadri, Mor­gan Rielly and Jake Gar­diner, as­sisted on it along with Phil Kes­sel. Jof­frey Lupul had the empty-net­ter and Jonathan Bernier out-du­elled Carey Price in goal.

Price doesn’t seem to have been trau­ma­tized by the event, go­ing on to strengthen his ca­reer record against Toronto to 23-13-1. That’s more wins for him against any other NHL club aside from Bos­ton (24) while mak­ing more saves against the Leafs (1,076) than against any other team. It has helped Mon­treal main­tain a com­fort­able lead in the cen­tu­ry­old se­ries (355-285-88-8).

New Jer­sey goal­tender Cory Sch­nei­der is al­ready in the Leafs’ col­lec­tive head af­ter mak­ing 47 saves Wed­nes­day, which makes fac­ing Price all the more daunt­ing.

“They’ll be ready for us and they have a great goal­tender as well,” Kadri said. “We have to find a way to get that (ex­tra) inch to put the puck in the back of the net in­stead of out­side it.”

He was re­fer­ring to all those posts the Leafs hit on Sch­nei­der that might have changed the out­come. Price holds a .924 save per­cent­age against the Leafs, though the good news for Toronto is he’s one of the few pos­i­tives for the Cana­di­ens. Their re­vamped lineup in the face of con­tro­ver­sial player moves has pro­duced one win in four games. But they’ll have had a four-day rest to get ready for Toronto and the noise their fans bring.

“That’s a fun build­ing to play in,” Kadri agreed.

Be­cause of a manda­tory day off Thurs­day, the Leafs had a 24-hour respite from an in­tense video ses­sion and a ha­rangu­ing by Bab­cock. Not that the coach was go­ing to whip them hard for one loss, but he was mighty peeved they didn’t pay at­ten­tion to pre-scout data on the Devils, who dis­rupted Toronto with their speed and spunk, then zapped them with a rare 5-on-3 short-handed goal.

“They skated us into the ground,” Bab­cock said Wed­nes­day. “But it’s over with now. We have lots of time to look at the game tape and get ready to face a hun­gry Mon­treal team.”

As Rielly pointed out, Satur­day will be the Leafs’ first divi­sional game. Take away last sea­son’s fail against Mon­treal (0-3-1) and the Leafs gained 39 of a pos­si­ble 52 points against the rest of the At­lantic, which sus­tained their play­off push.

“We have to take those games very se­ri­ously,” Rielly said.

Goal­tender Fred­erik An­der­sen said the Leafs should learn from tak­ing last year’s play­off or­phan Devils too lightly Wed­nes­day and not get bogged down think­ing about the Habs hex.

“Like I said be­fore ( Wed­nes­day), it doesn’t mat­ter what hap­pened be­fore. You can’t use the record (to pre­dict) any­thing. It’s a new game and we have to be pre­pared.”


James van Riems­dyk, right, and the Maple Leafs have lost 14 straight games to the Cana­di­ens.

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