Defeat to Montreal Canadiens proves the ice hockey franchise are not at their best.
NHL: Poor form ahead of play-offs a worry for Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs are entering the NHL play-offs hardly playing their best.
"I was mystified tonight," Toronto coach Randy Caryle said after Saturday night's sluggish 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the regular-season finale for both teams.
The Maple Leafs showed a bit of jump to start – the Canadiens went without a shot for the first 11 minutes of the game – and led 1-0 on a first-period Phil Kessel power-play goal.
But they faded fast and Montreal finished the period tied 1-1 and outshooting Toronto 9-6.
"For whatever reason, it was like we went brain-dead," Carlyle said. "Our execution level went way down."
How bad were the Leafs before a season-high crowd of 19,730? They managed one shot in the second period despite having three power plays.
One of those man advantages had captain Dion Phaneuf mishandle the puck at the blue line, a Leafs player fire the puck into the netting above the glass and an icing call.
Toronto and Montreal could meet in the play-offs.
But that was not decided on Saturday because Boston added to their point total by going to overtime in a loss to Washington, meaning that the Eastern Conference play-off match-up picture will not be complete until Sunday when Boston play Ottawa in a make-up game.
If Boston win on Sunday, the Leafs play Montreal. A Bruins loss and it is Boston versus Toronto.
Forward Jay McClement said the Leafs had to look after their own team, rather than wonder about their play-off opponents.
"We need to figure out our own game, no matter who we're playing. Because if we play like that tonight, it won't be good enough."
The way Toronto are playing, Boston fans may not regret losing on Sunday.
"The idea of [Montreal versus Toronto] is pretty cool," Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher said. "Obviously I'm assuming it would be the most emotional first-round series ever, so that aspect of it is cool. But for us, we don't really care who we're playing. It's about us. It matters what we do and that's all we're talking about. We'll watch the game [on Sunday] and find out who we play."
The Leafs (26-17-5) end the season having lost four of their last six, during which they have been outscored 20-15.
Kessel scored his 20th goal of the season for Toronto, getting his 10th goal in as many games.
Lars Eller had a goal and two assists to pace the Canadiens. Gallagher, Andrei Markov, and Thomas Plekanec also scored for Montreal, which won despite going 0-for-6 on the power play.
The Canadiens (29-14-5) did it without No 1 goalie Carey Price, who was given the night off in favour of Peter Budaj.
"We wanted to impose the rhythm," Montreal coach Michel Therrien said. "The players did a fantastic job executing the game plan. These are games with a lot of emotion and the type of game you want to play. They executed it fantastically tonight."
Montreal outshot Toronto 28-17.
And by the final whistle, the Leafs had lost their discipline with a string of penalties.
Tough guy Kyle McLaren got an early shower at 3:05 of the third period when he got minors for roughing and charging, a 10-minute misconduct and a game misconduct after misbehaving during a melee. There were no other penalties on the play.
Toronto's Clarke MacArthur also exited early with minors for slashing and unsportsmanlike conduct and a 10-minute misconduct.
The final penalty count was 44 minutes for Toronto to 16 for Montreal.
Carlyle replaced James Reimer with Ben Scrivens after Montreal made it 4-1 on the Canadiens' 23rd shot, a soft goal that Plekanec sent over Reimer's shoulder at 2:25 of the third period.
"It wasn't my best game," Reimer said. "A couple of unlucky bounces and stuff like that. You take some of the positives and then you flush it."
Carlyle agreed on both counts.
"I don't think he was as sharp as he's been, that's for sure," the coach said of Reimer. "He's been outstanding for our hockey club so it's hard to cast anything in that direction. I don't think we supported him tonight."
Asked how much time he would spend on the game, Carlyle wasted no time answering.
"None. It's over."
Said defenseman Mark Fraser: "The mindset now is to move on. Thankfully we're in a position where we can."
McClement had a different view.
"I don't think it's time to quite flush this game quite yet," he said. "I think we can still learn from it and have this in the back of our minds, that's it's only going to get tougher and we have to have our A game every night and regroup from there."
Toronto came into the game having won three of the four previous meetings between the two this season, outscoring the Canadiens 15-7. The Canadiens' lone win prior to Saturday was a 5-2 decision February 27 in Toronto.
Montreal had gone 2-5-0 since clinching its playoff spot April 11 with a win in Buffalo.
The Leafs chased Price in their last meeting, beating him three times on just four shots in a 5-1 win April 13 at Air Canada Centre.
Toronto's first-line center Tyler Bozak sat out for the second game in a row with an upper-body injury. Nazem Kadri took his place alongside Kessel and James Van Riemsdyk or Joffrey Lupul.
The Leaf power play went 1-for-7.
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