It could not have been a more uplifting NHL debut for Michael Kostka.
The 27-year-old defenceman picked up his first point and logged major minutes Saturday to help the Toronto Maple Leafs spoil the Montreal Canadiens' home opener with a 2-1 victory to kick off the lockout-shortened season.
"Pretty sweet,'' said Kostka, who has bounced around the minor leagues since leaving the University of Massachusetts-Amhurst in 2008 before landing with the Leafs' organization this season.
"It's my first game and being able to play in Montreal and get the win was awesome. I felt in mid-season form. And with such great fans like that, it's not tough to play.''
The power play was the difference on the night, with Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak connecting with the man advantage for Toronto, while Brian Gionta got one back for Montreal. Phil Kessel had two assists for the Leafs.
Another was that players who spent the lockout in the American Hockey League _ including Kostka, Kadri and Toronto goaltender Ben Scrivens, who got the start ahead of James Reimer _ looked to be in mid-season form.
Scrivens finished with 21 saves, while Montreal goalie Carey Price, who quieted concerns about a groin he tweaked this week, stopped 24 shots in taking the loss.
Kostka, of Ajax, Ont., was paired with Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf and was second on his team in ice time with 22:59.
"He was a dominant player,'' Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said of Kostka, who had 34 points in 34 games for the AHL's Toronto Marlies during the lockout. "He looked comfortable.
"He had a great year in the AHL. It's astounding he never played a season in the NHL.''
Montreal's anaemic power play was so disjointed at times that some in the crowd of 21,273 at the Bell Centre chanted "We want P.K.'' in reference to holdout defenceman P.K. Subban.
But no sooner did their cries arise in the third period than Gionta banged in the rebound off a Rafael Diaz point shot with a man advantage to make it a one-goal game
The Canadiens pushed hard for the equalizer, but Scrivens made a pad save on Diaz to preserve the win.
"Our execution was not there,'' said Montreal coach Michel Therrien. "We were missing our passes.
"I liked the reaction (in the third period). We never quit. But any time you lose the special teams battle it's tough to win. Tonight we lost that battle. We have to keep working on that.''
It was supposed to be a big night for Therrien, who is making his return to Montreal 10 years after he was fired from his first head coaching job in his hometown.
Many criticized his hiring, but in pre-game introductions, Therrien got one of the loudest, longest cheers, along with Price, returning defenceman Francis Bouillon and rookie Alex Galchenyuk.
The 18-year-old Galchenyuk saw limited action on the second line and showed flashes of talent but was dropped to the third unit for the final period.
The Canadiens dominated the early going but the Leafs took momentum when they scored on their first shot of the game at 4:51 of the first.
A pass from Kessel hit a skate and went to Kadri, who lifted the puck into an open side with Price moving the wrong way.
Montreal's Tomas Plekanec was off for unsportsmanlike conduct after spraying Scrivens with ice when Bozak made it 2-0 at 8:12 of the second. Bozak collected a rebound off a shot from Kessel in the slot and fired the puck past Price's glove.
The pre-game ceremony saw Canadiens legends including Henri Richard and Yvon Cournoyer descend from the seats with a torch, which was passed on to 1950s and 1960s great Jean Beliveau, who finally gave it to current captain Brian Gionta to carry out to centre ice. The 81-year-old Beliveau was back at the Bell Centre looking fit after recovering from a stroke in Fenruary.
Both teams are looking to recapture their winning ways of the past, especially Toronto, which has missed the playoffs seven years in row.
The Leafs got off to a good start with a win in their rival's rink. They'll try to make it two in a row in their home opener Monday against the Buffalo Sabres.
"We haven't made the playoffs,'' said Carlyle. "When you're the butt of jokes in the hockey world, it's not fun. We take that seriously.''
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