Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe celebrates with Maple Leafs netminder Jean-Sebastien Aubin after defeating the Montreal Canadiens 6-5 on Saturday, April. 7 in Toronto. (CP/Nathan Denette)
Kyle Wellwood and Bryan McCabe scored power-play goals early in the third period Saturday night as the Leafs rallied to beat the Montreal Canadiens 6-5 in a riveting contest that knocked their Original Six rivals out of the playoff picture.
The Leafs moved into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 91 points, one ahead of Montreal and the New York Islanders. Ted Nolan's men can knock the Leafs out Sunday afternoon with a win over the New Jersey Devils on the last day of the NHL's regular season.
The first-place Buffalo Sabres await either the Leafs or the Islanders in the first round and if they were watching Saturday's game they won't be shaking in their boots if it's Toronto given the sloppyness by both teams on this night.
Carlo Colaiacovo, Alexander Steen, Nikolai Antropov and Bates Battaglia also scored for the Leafs, who coughed up a 3-1 lead in the second period only to rally back from a 5-3 deficit with Jean-Sebastien Aubin replacing Andrew Raycroft in goal.
Michael Ryder had a natural hat trick, while Chris Higgins had a pair for the Habs, who lost their final two games of the season to slip out of the playoffs. Captain Saku Koivu had three assists, while Sheldon Souray had one assist in what was likely the final game in a Canadiens uniform for the star defenceman, an unrestricted free agent July 1.
The Leafs came charging out of the gate and outshot Montreal 12-1 in the opening five minutes. They kept coming in waves and Yanic Perreault set up a streaking Battaglia in the slot, his wrist shot beating Huet glove side to open the scoring at 7:53.
Higgins tied the game on a beauty, skating around Tomas Kaberle inside the blue-line and beating Raycroft stick side, getting hundreds of Montreal fans on their feet in Air Canada Centre.
But Antropov tipped a Mats Sundin pass between Huet's legs with 3:51 to go in the opening period, a squeaker that the Habs netminder should have had.
Steen made it 3-1 with fans still finding their seats 1:12 into the middle period, flipping a rebound over a sprawled Huet.
But then it was the Ryder show, three goals in just under six minutes. The native of Bonavista, Nfld., Ryder cut the lead to one goal just 36 seconds after the Steen goal, his wrist shot from the side boards going in off Raycroft's glove, a horrible goal that put Montreal right back into the game.
Montreal had a five on three moment later and Ryder slipped in his own rebound to tie 3-3 at 4:32. A few shifts later, Ryder scored goal No. 3 to give Montreal its first lead of the game, stuffing a wrap-around effort under Raycroft, his 30th of the year which chased the Leafs goalie form the net.
Montreal's vaunted power play connected again when Higgins slid in a rebound at 14:31, giving Montreal a 5-3 lead - seemingly safe enough given that a single point by the Habs would knock off the Leafs.
Just when it appeared a lost cause, the Leafs got back in the game with 2:14 to go in the period, Colaiacovo's seeing eye point shot eluding a screened Huet, bringing a buzz back in the building.
The Leafs got a pair of five-on-three power plays early in the third period and actually didn't score on either one, but they did with the one-man advantage, McCabe rifling a wrist shot that beat Huet top corner on the glove side 58 seconds into the third.
Wellwood then tipped Kaberle's wrist shot from the point to give the Leafs a 6-5 lead at 3:43 just before the five-on-four power play expired, a goal that shook the roof at Air Canada Centre.
Notes: Defencemen Josh Gorges and Janne Niinimaa and forwards Sergei Samsonov and Garth Murray were healthy scratches for Montreal. Forward Alexander Perezhogin was back in the lineup for the first time since Feb. 27, recovering from a concussion ... Forwards Jeff O'Neill, Kris Newbury and Travis Green and defencemen Wade Belak and Andrew Wozniewski were left behind by the Leafs.