MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens still believe a playoff spot is within reach.
Montreal beat the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1 on Saturday night – the team’s third win in its last four games.
“We’ve always had hope in this room,” said captain Max Pacioretty, who scored twice against the Leafs. “I won’t look at the standings. I’m taking things one day at a time, one game at a time, and hoping for good results.”
Montreal is 3-0-1 in its last four and five points out of the final wild-card spot in the East with 20 games remaining.
“We’re right there,” said goalie Mike Condon, who had 31 saves to earn. “Anything can happen. See what Ottawa did last year. So I have full faith in this group of guys here. Why not? Why not us?”
Added P.K. Subban: “There’s still some light at the end of the tunnel. There’s an opportunity. If we keep playing the way we’re playing right now, who knows what happens.”
“That’s his bread and butter,” said Pacioretty of Markov. “I’ve had a lot of plays like that with him. He’s such a smart player. That play, if you watch our warm-ups, that pass, we probably do that fifty times back and forth. So we have a bit of chemistry on that pass.”
Pacioretty added his second less than two minutes later, jumping on a loose puck in front of the net. The multi-goal game was his first since Oct. 13.
Montreal (30-27-5) has now won 10 straight versus the Leafs (21-19-10) for the first time since 1958. Toronto’s last win versus the Habs was Jan. 18, 2014.
“The bottom line is we were in a game that was 2-1 going into the third,” said Toronto head coach Mike Babcock. “We were set up to have success. Pacioretty made a really nice play pushing off (Morgan) Rielly for one goal and I felt that was the dagger that did us in right there.”
Matt Hunwick had a goal for the Maple Leafs, who are at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
Toronto’s Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau left the game with neck pain in the first period and did not return. Parenteau also left the Leafs’ practice on Friday after feeling sore.
The visitors also lost forward Byron Froese, who broke his right hand blocking a Subban shot in the second period.
The Maple Leafs got off to a fast start, with Hunwick beating Condon at 5:29 of the first period. Hunwick cashed in a big rebound after Condon made the pad save on Brendan Leipsic‘s initial shot.
The Leafs, who have scored first just 19 times in 60 games this season, have an NHL-worst 10 wins when scoring first.
Galchenyuk responded for Montreal less than two minutes after Hunwick’s opener, beating Bernier with a precise shot from a tight angle.
Babcock challenged the play, claiming Lars Eller had interfered with Bernier, but the goal stood.
“It’s the referee,” said Bernier, who made 31 saves in defeat. “They made that decision on the first goal. I thought I got bumped, but they didn’t see it.”
Smith-Pelly scored the game-winner with an easy tap-in at 10:39 of the second.
Centre Phillip Danault, a Victoriaville, Que. native, took the game’s opening faceoff in his Canadiens debut.
Danault was acquired by Montreal on Friday in a trade that sent forwards Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Canadiens also received a second-round pick in the 2018 draft in that trade.
“It was a great feeling that I wont ever forget all my life,” said Danault of his first game with the Habs. “I’ve been watching Montreal forever, since I’m young. It’s the closest team to my heart.”
Earlier on Saturday, the Maple Leafs traded goalie James Reimer and forward Jeremy Morin to San Jose for forward Ben Smith, goaltender Alex Stalock and a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2018 draft.