TORONTO – It was an opportunity missed for the Leafs.
Dropping their fourth game in the last five, the Leafs fell 3-1 to the struggling Canadiens at the ACC on Saturday night, missing a golden opportunity to pick up two points and bury a division foe.
"It's disappointing that we didn't win it," Dion Phaneuf said solemnly after the game. "We talked a lot about how big this game was. We're definitely disappointed with the outcome."
With the loss, the Leafs remain 9th in the Eastern Conference (51 points), only a point behind the Washington Capitals, but just one ahead of the Winnipeg Jets and now only six in front of the Canadiens, who had lost five of six entering the game.
"It was a huge game for us," Carl Gunnarsson concurred. "First of all, just getting those two points for ourselves and then keeping them behind us is just as important."
Raphael Diaz broke a 1-1 tie early in the third period, a point shot through traffic that Jonas Gustavsson had little opportunity to see. The goal was pre-empted by a lost battle along the boards.
"I thought as the game went on, it just became a who's going to make a mistake first, kind of a waiting game," Phaneuf said. "They didn't give up a whole lot, we didn't give up a whole lot and then we broke.
"It's disappointing, but we're going to have to move forward quickly."
1. The Leafs pelted Carey Price with 33 shots in defeat, but did little to rattle his cage or crease, a major point of emphasis for Ron Wilson. "That's something that we have to confront in practice and work on it and drill it home," Wilson said. "We have to get to the front of the net and we have to pay a price in an ugly game. You have to play it like a playoff game; this is a huge game for us standings-wise."
"We talked about it in between periods how we needed to get to the front of the net," Tyler Bozak added. "Obviously we didn't do a good job of that. We've got to get more traffic, take away the goalie's eyes and pounce on some rebounds."
2. The fourth-ranked Leaf powerplay came up empty in three opportunities, dropping to 1-17 (6%) over the last five games. Perhaps the best opportunity on those man advantages came to Lars Eller shorthanded, stopped on a first period breakaway by Gustavsson.
3. Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul were re-united in the third period with the Leafs trailing and in need of a goal. But it was only moments after rejoining that the line was on the ice for yet another goal against, with Eller sealing the win with Montreal's third goal. Lupul was on the ice for all three Canadiens goals, most notably the game-winner in which he was beaten for a puck along the boards by Diaz, who happened to score seconds later.
4. It was a sour ending to the day for the 28-year-old Lupul, who was named an alternate captain to the upcoming All-Star game. "That's a nice, little feather in his cap for the moment," Wilson said before the game. "He's had a great year." Lupul is just two points from matching his career-high of 53 points, set with the Ducks in 2005-2006. "He doesn't really need me to say much about him," Mike Brown said, a teammate in Toronto and Anaheim, "you can see his stats and the way he's been playing on the ice."
5. The Leaf penalty kill was perfect for the ninth consecutive game, stopping the Canadiens' 30th-ranked power play in three opportunities. "Big thing is, we've gotten some really good games when we've been shorthanded from the Monster and that makes a big difference," Wilson said before the game. "You're not going to be perfect on the penalty kill, you're going to make a mistake here and there and you need a save and we've gotten that."
Over his last 15 starts, Gustavsson boasts a sterling .930 save percentage (four goals against in 57 shots) with his team shorthanded.
Montreal native Matthew Lombardi scored his fourth goal of the season and second in three games, fed on a breakaway by Bozak... Gustavsson made 20 saves in defeat... Phaneuf led the Leafs with nearly 28 minutes of ice-time... Gunnarsson played a season-high 27:18... The Leafs dropped to 5-3-0 at home in January... Tim Connolly has one goal in his last 17 games... Toronto had won the first two matchups with Montreal this season... Colby Armstrong, John-Michael Liles and Darryl Boyce all sat with injuries.