MONTREAL -- The Randy Carlyle era in Toronto is off to a winning start.
Mikhail Grabovski assisted on the tying goal and scored both the game-winner and insurance goals in the third period to give Carlyle a win in his first game as Toronto's coach as the Maple Leafs beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 on Saturday night.
Carlyle admitted to having some butterflies prior to the game and having some difficulty keeping up with line combinations in the heat of the action, though in the end he liked his team's defensive effort and the way his players skated.
But now, he said, the pressure's on.
"I think the tenacity for the puck in puck battles and the ability to get inside and to complete in those areas, that's what we're looking for," Carlyle said.
"Toughness can be defined in many different ways and we just feel that this group can compete at a higher level and tonight they proved it. Now they're in trouble, they have to do it every night."
Grabovski snapped a 14-game goal drought when he snapped a brilliant behind-the-back feed from Clarke MacArthur past Carey Price at 11:45 of the third period for his 19th goal of the season, one that may have rescued Toronto's fading playoff hopes and restored hope in a city desperately wanting to see spring hockey for the first time since 2004.
One night after a 1-9-1 stretch cost coach Ron Wilson his job, the victory in Montreal ended a six-game winless skid and moved the Maple Leafs (30-28-7) within three points of the idle Winnipeg Jets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
"We still have a chance to make the playoffs," Grabovski said. "We have to continue to (get) points."
Price was a rock in goal with 40 saves and Erik Cole scored for the Canadiens (25-31-10), who got right back in the losing column after a 5-4 shootout win against Minnesota on Thursday snapped their own five-game losing streak. Montreal has just two wins in its last 10 games (2-7-1).
"Nobody likes losing," Cole said. "I thought we did some good things, but at the end of the day it wasn't enough."
While the win is a major positive, it was difficult to say if there was any tangible "Carlyle Effect" other than the fact the Leafs outshot the Canadiens 25-12 through the first 35 minutes of play and 42-22 overall, matching their season-high for shots while bottling up the Habs for most of the final two periods.
"I thought our team put it on the line for us," Carlyle said. "It's impressive when you can go into the opposition's building and hold them to under 25 shots and score two big goals in the third period to eke out a win on the road."
However, Carlyle felt the one thing he asked his team to do was accomplished.
"I asked them to skate, to be themselves, to not worry about anything other than what our focus was, and that was the hockey game tonight," Carlyle said.
The energy boost Toronto general manager Brian Burke was hoping for was not clearly evident at the outset.
The typically split crowd at Bell Centre provided some great atmosphere early on and appeared to fuel the two teams to an energetic first period that included a spirited fight between Toronto's Mike Brown and Montreal's Brad Staubitz.
Earlier in the day Burke had mentioned how he likes to have a "rough team" and how Carlyle is more in line with that thinking than Wilson was. As if he was attempting to prove his general manager right, Brown's fight did indeed appear to spark the Maple Leafs as they began to control much of the play from that point onward.
"Brownie has done that for this hockey club on numerous occasions, and I had him in Anaheim so I know what type of player he is," Carlyle said. "He's one of those guys who puts it on the line. But there were lot of guys who went out there and made sacrifices and played better on the defensive side than they have in the last little while. That's for sure."
Another positive for Toronto was that Jonas Gustavsson allowed just one goal after surrendering four in each of his previous two starts, validating Burke's comments earlier in the day of how his play has saved the Maple Leafs on a few occasions this season.
"I feel like I'm going in the right direction," Gustavsson said. "Hopefully I can reach another level over the last few games of the season."
For Grabovski, his three-point night not only matched his production from the previous 11 games combined, it also continued a trend of burning his former team in its building. Grabovski now has four goals and nine assists in 11 games at Bell Centre since the Canadiens traded him to Toronto in 2008.
"Two years (ago) I couldn't score here," Grabovski said. "I think it was because there were a couple of guys on that team from when I played, but right now there's nobody. It's much easier for me to play, no pressure."
The Leafs gave up the first goal for the sixth time in seven games on a play that began with a heady backhand saucer pass from David Desharnais to Max Pacioretty to clear the puck from his zone, and ended with Cole scoring his 23rd of the season at 7:16 of the first period.
Cole nearly had another one five minutes later when he blew by Dion Phaneuf to go in on goal, but Gustavsson made a diving poke check while Cole was attempting to cut across the net.
The Leafs' best scoring opportunity among their 13 shots on goal in the first came from Joffrey Lupul with 19.9 seconds to play when he was left alone to the right of Price and had the Canadiens goaltender vulnerable, but he was unable to get a threatening shot away.
Toronto tied the score at 6:30 of the second period when Grabovski and Lars Eller got tied up on a faceoff -- Matt Frattin slid over and snapped the loose puck high to Price's glove side for his sixth of the season.
After giving Toronto the lead earlier in the third, Grabovski iced the game with a power-play goal with 52.4 seconds to play in regulation off a nice feed from Frattin to hit the 20-goal mark for the third time in his career.