By HOWARD BERGER
MONTREAL (Oct. 22) – How often through the years have the Toronto Maple Leafs been victimized by a former player – no matter how skilled or obscure – upon his return to either Maple Leaf Gardens or the Air Canada Centre? This may seem like a rhetorical question but there are multiple answers, believe me. The interminable trend came to mind earlier tonight at the Bell Centre when Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski – a rather despised ex-Montreal chattel – stuck a dagger in his former team by niftily scoring the game-winner at 1:23 of overtime, providing the Maple Leafs a thrilling, 5-4 triumph over the Canadiens.
About the only worse scenario for downtrodden Montreal fans would have been a decisive tally by Mike Komisarek… whenever he touches the puck in this city, it sounds as if 15,000 angry cows are in the arena.
Grabovski, in tight to the Montreal goal, made a terrific inside-out move to flip the puck over Carey Price and lengthen the Canadiens losing streak to five games. Leafs, at 5-1-1, could be on their way to exorcising the demons of October and November, though proof is still three or four weeks in the distance.
Leafs coach Ron Wilson explained that starting goalie James Reimer was pulled after the first period, “because the doctors here didn’t think he was feeling right.” Reimer’s mask and helmet had been dislodged in a violent goal-mouth collision with Habs’ Brian Gionta just one minute after the opening face-off; Gionta was penalized for goalkeeper interference. Though Reimer stayed in for the entire opening frame, he felt some neck discomfort and was removed in favor of Jonas Gustavsson, who struggled in his initial start of the season, Thursday night, at Boston.
You could feel the cringe of Leafs Nation when Andrei Kostitsyn fooled Gustavsson with the first shot he faced… just 29 seconds into the middle frame. But, the Monster settled down; stopped 15 of 18 shots overall, and made some key saves later in the period.
With camera in hand, I snapped these images of a Leafs-Canadiens Saturday night clash here in Montreal:
GOOD-NATURED FANS OF EACH TEAM HAM IT UP ON THEIR WAY INTO THE ARENA.
PRESS BOX AT THE BELL CENTRE IS WAY UP IN THE RAFTERS, BUT PROVIDES A SPECTACULAR VIEW OF EVERYTHING DOWN BELOW. HERE, THE LEAFS AND CANADIENS SKATE IN PRE-GAME WARM-UP.
FORMER LEAFS DEFENSEMAN HAL GILL PLAYED HIS 1,000th CAREER GAME ON THURSDAY NIGHT IN PITTSBURGH AND WAS RECOGNIZED DURING A PRE-GAME CEREMONY HERE IN MONTREAL. GILL RECEIVED A SILVER-PLATED STICK FROM HIS CURRENT TEAM, PRESENTED (ABOVE) BY CANADIENS LEGEND HENRI RICHARD. TO RICHARD’S RIGHT IS NHL SENIOR EXECUTIVE JIM GREGORY – THE FORMER LEAFS GENERAL MANAGER – WHO PRESENTED GILL A PLAQUE ON BEHALF OF THE LEAGUE.
SATURDAY-NIGHT FACE-OFF AT THE BELL CENTRE BETWEEN THE CANADIENS AND MAPLE LEAFS… IT DOESN’T GET MUCH BETTER.
JUST 1:04 INTO THE GAME, LEAFS GOALIE JAMES REIMER IS PRONE IN HIS CREASE – HIS MASK DISLODGED – AFTER A COLLISION WITH MONTREAL’S BRIAN GIONTA. REFEREE’S ARM IS RAISED FOR GOALTENDER-INTERFERENCE PENALTY.
REIMER (FEELING FOR HIS NET, ABOVE) STAYED IN THE GAME FOR THE ENTIRE FIRST PERIOD BUT COMPLAINED OF NECK SORENESS AFTERWARD, PROMPTING LEAFS TO REMOVE HIM IN FAVOR OF JONAS GUSTAVSSON.
DON CHERRY AND RON MACLEAN ALWAYS DRAW A CROWD IN ARENA MEDIA LOUNGES HERE IN CANADA, AND IT’S NO DIFFERENT AT THE BELL CENTRE.
THOUGH HE WAS EVERY BIT AS AWFUL AS HIS TEAMMATES ON THURSDAY NIGHT IN BOSTON, THE MONSTER (ABOVE) REDEEMED HIMSELF WITH A MUCH-STEADIER PERFORMANCE IN RELIEF OF JAMES REIMER. LEAFS NATION HAD TO SWALLOW HARD, HOWEVER, AFTER GUSTAVSSON WAS BEATEN BY THE FIRST SHOT HE FACED.
WHILE LEAF SUPPORTERS CRINGED, THE CANADIENS CELEBRATED ANDREI KOSTITSYN’S GOAL ON GUSTAVSSON JUST 29 SECONDS INTO THE MIDDLE FRAME.
LEAFS WERE NOT TO BE OUTDONE ON THIS NIGHT. HERE, PHIL KESSEL (81), CLARKE MacARTHUR (16) AND THE NIGHT’S ULTIMATE HERO – MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI – LISTEN TO INSTRUCTIONS FROM COACH RON WILSON DURING A TV TIME-OUT.
RICHMOND HILL, ONT. NATIVE MIKE CAMMALLERI (ABOVE RIGHT) PLAYED IN HIS 500th NHL GAME ON SATURDAY NIGHT. HE SCORED EARLY IN THE THIRD PERIOD TO TIE THE MATCH, 3-3.
JUBILANT LEAF PLAYERS MOB MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI ALONG THE FAR BOARDS AFTER HIS GAME-WINNING GOAL – A BEAUTY – AT 1:23 OF OVERTIME.
RON WILSON EXPLAINS AFTERWARD WHY HE WAS FORCED TO REMOVE JAMES REIMER FROM THE GAME AFTER THE FIRST PERIOD. THE COACH FELT THE INJURY WASN’T LIKELY TOO SERIOUS.
LEAF PLAYERS WERE GREETED BY A CLUSTER OF WELL-WISHES AFTER THE GAME. PHIL KESSEL (ABOVE) SIGNS AN AUTOGRAPH ON HIS WAY TO TEAM BUS. FORMER HABS DEFENSEMAN MIKE KOMISAREK (BELOW) STILL HAS MANY FRIENDS IN THIS TOWN, THOUGH YOU’D NEVER KNOW IT WHEN HE TOUCHES THE PUCK.
I ASKED OVERTIME HERO MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI TO MUG FOR THE CAMERA ON HIS WAY TO THE LEAFS BUS… AND HE COMPLIED!