TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs stayed alive and knocked out their biggest rivals, too.
It was far from textbook, but the Maple Leafs got exactly what they were looking for, writes Scott Burnside. Story
Trailing the Montreal Canadiens by one entering the third period, the Maple Leafs got power-play goals from Bryan McCabe and Kyle Wellwood and then held on for a 6-5 victory on Saturday night in the final game for both teams.
The Maple Leafs now need the New York Islanders to lose at New Jersey on Sunday to claim the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. If New York wins, the Islanders are in.
"I'm very proud of our team. We'll cross our fingers now," Toronto captain Mats Sundin said.
Carlo Colaiacovo started Toronto's comeback after the Canadiens turned a 3-1 deficit in the second period into a 5-3 lead.
Michael Ryder scored three straight to make it 4-3, and Chris Higgins -- a Long Island native -- scored his second of the night to give Montreal its two-goal edge. Canadiens captain Saku Koivu assisted on all of Ryder's goals.
The Maple Leafs defeated the Canadiens, 6-5, in a game that will be discussed across Canada for generations. With Toronto needing a win in regulation time to remain alive for the playoffs, it overcame an early third-period Montreal lead to win the game, which not only kept the Leafs alive but also eliminated their ancient rivals from pursuit of the Cup. Toronto had won only one other game this season in regulation time after having trailed at any time during the third period, and that one game was way back on November 1 at Tampa.
"We had a lot of guys step up and play great, but the bottom line is we we're not in the playoffs" Koivu said.
Ryder had three goals and an assist.
"It was definitely in our hands. We were up 5-3," Ryder said. "We knew we had to kill penalties in the third. Their power play did the job."
Wellwood gave Toronto the lead for good by tipping a screened shot past goalie Cristobal Huet at 3:43 of the third. Huet made his first start since Feb 14. Toronto started the third with a two-man advantage after Steve Begin took a double minor for high-sticking to close the second. Koivu's tripping penalty at 2 minutes, produced another 5-on-3 for the Leafs.
The Canadiens emptied their net for the extra attacker with 1:15 left, but couldn't get a shot on goal.
Bates Battaglia, Nik Antropov and Alex Steen also scored for the Maple Leafs, whose fate could in the hands of New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur. He said he won't do Toronto any favors by playing against the Islanders in a meaningless game for the Devils on Sunday.
Toronto coach Paul Maurice said if the Maple Leafs don't make it to the postseason, they can still take pleasure in knowing they eliminated Montreal.
"It was all that is good about our game in Canada. Everybody gets so excited on Saturday night in Canada, and we won," Maurice said.
Either New York or Toronto will play top-seeded Buffalo in the first round of the playoffs.
Ryder rallied Montreal within a span 5:49.
He scored his first just 36 seconds second after Alex Steen gave Toronto a 4-2 lead. The weak shot ticked off Andrew Raycroft's glove and in at 1:48 of the second.
Ryder tied it by scoring on his own rebound at 4:32 and gave Montreal the lead at 7:37 on a wraparound.
Maurice replaced Raycroft with Jean-Sebastien Aubin after Ryder's third goal.
Higgins followed with his second goal, giving Montreal a 5-3 lead at 14:31 of the second.
"The year was on the line. I don't think anybody expected this," Aubin said.
Colaiacovo got Toronto back in it with a screened shot at 17:46 of the second.
Montreal's Mike Johnson received a tripping penalty before Begin took his double minor that gave Toronto a two-man advantage for the first 48 seconds of the third.
McCabe tied it at 5 just 58 seconds in the third with a screened shot.
"We showed a ton of character," McCabe said. "Now we'll just wait."
Toronto outshot Montreal 19-4 in the first 10 minutes of the first period and put a season-high 23 shots on goal in the frame.
Battaglia gave Toronto a 1-0 lead at 7:53 of the first by converting Yanic Perreault's pass from behind the net.
Antropov regained the lead for Toronto with a weak redirection shot that trickled between Huet's pads at 16:09 of the second.
Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau took a risk by playing goalie Huet, who hadn't started a game since having hamstring surgery Feb 14. He played only the third period of Thursday's 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers since.
"People are going to question Carbonneau for putting him in, but I think it was the right move. We all stood by his decision," Higgins said.
Another press box was created for the high-profile game. ... Sundin, one goal shy of tying Darryl Sittler's franchise record (389), was held without one for the 12th straight game.