TORONTO – Toronto defenseman Tomas Kaberle's first goal in 35 games stood up as the game-winner in the Maple Leafs' 3-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.
The Maple Leafs have struggled in first periods recently, prompting coach Ron Wilson to stress the importance of good starts. He finally got one as Toronto scored twice in the opening 20 minutes for the first time since Nov. 13.
It came against the tired Canadiens, who lost 4-2 in Detroit on Friday. They were flat early in a game that was played with an edge. Toronto's Clarke MacArthur won an early one-sided fight against Jaroslav Spacek, who was knocked out of the game.
Phil Kessel and Kris Versteeg also scored for the Maple Leafs (11-14-4).
Mike Cammalleri had the lone goal for Montreal (18-10-2).
Because the Canadiens were playing on back-to-back nights, goalie Alex Auld made a rare start in place of usual starter Carey Price. He gave Montreal a chance to win by not allowing a goal in the final 2½ periods.
Montreal pushed hard for the tying goal in the closing minutes, but Maple Leafs goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere stood tall. The boos that rained down during Thursday's loss to Philadelphia were replaced by chants of "Go Leafs Go!"
Kessel wasted little time in putting an end to his seven-game goal drought. He charged hard to the net and knocked a loose puck behind Auld at 7:38 of the first period.
It was just the 11th time in 29 games that the Maple Leafs led 1-0.
Toronto seized some momentum and went ahead 2-0 when Kaberle scored his first goal since March at 10:35.
Montreal seemed to find its legs in the second.
After being held to four shots in the opening 20 minutes, the Canadiens came out with a little more urgency. Cammalleri made it 2-1 at 14:38 with his 10th of the season, beating Giguere high with a shot the goalie appeared to have trouble seeing.
Notes: Scott Gomez missed his second straight game for Montreal because of a lower body injury. ... Montreal recalled C David Desharnais from AHL Hamilton, but he didn't play. ... The announced attendance was 19,656, the largest crowd at Air Canada Centre this season.