BREAK THE CURSE

The Leafs are win­less in 14 straight vs. their hated ri­vals the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens — it’s time to change that on Satur­day

Toronto Sun - - SPORTS - LANCE HORNBY Maple Leafs lhornby@post­media.com @sun­hornby

It’s ev­ery­thing the 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 pregame dress­ing room ad­dress.

But this, the big­gest reg­u­lar-sea­son stage for the Leafs, lin­ing up against the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens, is get­ting to be a pain in the pos­te­rior, home and away. 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 (JVR, Nazem Kadri, Mor­gan Rielly and Jake Gar­diner are the oth­ers), as­sisted on the win­ner, along with Phil Kes­sel. Jof­frey Lupul had the empty-net­ter and Jonathan Bernier out­du­eled Carey Price in goal.

Price didn’t seem to be trau­ma­tized by the event, go­ing on to strengthen his ca­reer record against Toronto to 23-13-1 in the games since. Aside from Bos­ton (24), that’s more wins for him ver­sus all NHL clubs, while mak­ing more saves against the Leafs (1,076) than any other team. It has helped Mon­treal main­tain a com­fort­able lead in the cen­tury-old se­ries (355-285-88-8).

New Jer­sey’s Cory Sch­nei­der is al­ready in the Leafs’ col­lec­tive head af­ter mak­ing 47 saves on Wed­nes­day, which makes fac­ing Price all that 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.”

Kadri was re­fer­ring to all those posts the Leafs hit with Sch­nei­der in net, clanks that might have changed the out­come. Price holds a .924 save per­cent­age against the Leafs, though the good news for Toronto is that he’s one of the few pos­i­tives for the Cana­di­ens.

The Habs’ re­vamped lineup in the face of con­tro­ver­sial player moves has pro­duced one win in four games. But they’ll have had a four­day 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 on Thurs­day, the Leafs had a 24-hour respite from an in­tense video ses­sion and a ha­rangue 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 the Leafs with a rare 5-on-3 short-handed goal.

“They skated us into the ground,” Bab­cock said on Wed­nes­day night. “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 Toronto 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 and not get bogged down think­ing about the Habs hex.

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

GETTY IM­AGES FILES James van Riems­dyk (right) scores the last Leafs game-win­ning goal against Habs goalie Carey Price way back on Jan. 18, 2014, at the Bell Cen­tre. Since then, the Leafs haven’t won in 14 games vs. the Cana­di­ens. Be­low: An­drew Shaw scores the OT win­ner in the last reg­u­lar-sea­son game between the two clubs, on Feb. 25, 2017.

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