TORONTO — After a pair of narrow losses to Toronto already this season, the Montreal Canadiens finally looked headed for a sure victory on Saturday.
But the Canadiens coughed up a three-goal lead and, moments after his team's stunning 6-3 loss to the Maple Leafs, coach Claude Julien lamented a huge opportunity lost.
"Once they scored that second goal, we tightened up. I thought we froze even in the third period," a defeated Julien said. "We have a one-goal lead, it's a matter of going out there and playing on our toes the way we had at the start of the game, and we couldn't even make a play. I don't know why. But we need to learn to manage these situations much better than we have, especially lately.
"Third periods have been an issue for us in the last week, and it was again tonight."
The loss was the Canadiens' seventh straight against their arch-rival dating back to last season, and halted the Habs' two-game win streak.
It was also the first time in 40 years the Habs have given up a three-goal lead to lose to the Leafs — it happened last in 1969.
Andrew Shaw and Jeff Petry had a goal and assist each, while Tomas Tatar also scored for the Canadiens (33-22-7), who had the Leafs on their heels throughout the first period. When Tatar and Petry scored barely a minute apart to make it 3-0 midway through the first, the Leafs fans at Scotiabank Arena fell into a stunned silence.
"We definitely had a great first period, I thought at the end of the day we got a little sloppy with the puck, we just made a few bad decisions, but that's ultimately what usually costs you the game," said Carey Price, who made 31 saves.
The Canadiens' previous two losses to the Leafs this season came in overtime, including a 4-3 loss in Montreal two weeks ago. Do the Canadiens believe they deserved better outcomes?
"At the end of the day, there's no wins there," said defenceman Shea Weber. "We did a lot of good things tonight, but at the end it was tough. A tough one to swallow."
Brendan Gallagher said his team "failed."
"We didn't do a good enough job, obviously you get up 3-0, you should come out with a win. We didn't do that," the winger said. "But like anything we've been through, the only choice you have is to really learn from this and make sure it doesn't happen again, because it's pretty (crappy).
"It stings more than a regular loss, but it's important to move on and make sure it never happens again."
The Leafs clambered out of their hole with second-period goals by Auston Matthews and Tyler Ennis. William Nylander tied it up midway through the third, and Zach Hyman scored the go-ahead goal with 1:50 to go in the third.
The tying goal at 6:58 of the third came off a lucky bounce. Patrick Marleau's dump in took a wild bounce off the back of the boards and, with Price out of his net, Nylander had an easy shot from in front.
"I was pretty surprised," Price said of the play. "Obviously not a great bounce. But those are the breaks in a hockey game that can definitely change the momentum of it."
Montreal fell to five points behind Toronto and sit fourth in the Atlantic Division. They currently hold the first wild-card spot in the East.
Julien was asked whether the youthfulness of his roster has played a hand in late-game collapses.
"It could be, but again you want your team to handle those better, and that's why we're here, and that's what we're trying to do here," the coach said. "We have to take ownership and take responsibility for what happened."
Montreal now heads to New Jersey face the Devils on Monday, then plays in Detroit on Tuesday.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press