TORONTO -- When Carey Price looks at the Toronto Maple Leafs, he sees a big, physically strong team.
"They're in your face," the Montreal Canadiens goalie said. "They're a playoff team."
But Price's Canadiens are in even better shape as Tomas Plekanec scored the go-ahead goal just as a power play expired, and Montreal won 4-3 on Saturday night.
Montreal moved five points up on Toronto in the Atlantic Division standings and in the process made it far less likely that this thrilling, back-and-forth affair could be a first-round playoff preview.
"I think that's what everybody would want to see, and I'm sure it's going to happen sooner or later," said Canadiens forward Rene Bourque, who had a goal and an assist -- and was not yet born the last time these teams met in the playoffs in 1979.
As the Canadiens won for the fourth time in five games, the Leafs (36-28-8) dropped their fourth in a row as part of a troubling late-season swoon in the absence of injured goalie Jonathan Bernier. Toronto still holds the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference but leads Detroit by just one point and Columbus by two and has played two more games that the Red Wings and Blue Jackets.
The Leafs could fall out of playoff position by the end of Sunday.
James Reimer, who allowed four goals on 37 shots, including a short-side game-winner by Plekanec, said he and his teammates have a "healthy sense of urgency" with 10 games remaining.
"I think we know we played well tonight and I think we made some mistakes, but I think they made some mistakes, too," Reimer said. "Really, it was kind of one bad bounce that decided the game. I think we can hold our heads high on this one and go into tomorrow [at the New Jersey Devils] feeling good about ourselves."
The Canadiens are feeling good about themselves after winning a track meet of a hockey game that featured three goals in the first period -- by Montreal's Max Pacioretty, Bourque and captain Brian Gionta and Toronto's Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak.
Montreal coach Michel Therrien liked the way his team dictated the play early. But it was bouncing back in the third period after Nazem Kadri tied the score for the Leafs that impressed Price, who finished with 33 saves.
"That was definitely a test of character," Price said. "When a team scores in the third period to tie it up, when they're at home, you're on the road, they grab a lot of momentum. ... Being able to grab the lead and then hold it with a good team effort like that is, I think, rewarding."
Now five points back of Montreal and six behind the Tampa Bay Lightning, who won in Toronto on Wednesday night, the Leafs will need an uphill climb to avoid a wild-card spot and a tough matchup. But now there's some legitimate concern, given recent woes, that a playoff spot altogether might be in danger.
This loss, which winger Mason Raymond said "stings" and captain Dion Phanuef called "disappointing," didn't help that cause.
"You have to turn the page," Phaneuf said. "There's no looking back on today tomorrow. Tomorrow's a new day, we've got to pull ourselves out of it. It's this group that's going to get us out of this bind. We've been close, but close isn't good enough right now. We know that we're going to get out of it, we've just got to find a way."
The turning point came 9:14 into the third when Toronto forward James van Riemsdyk was called for goaltender interference when he steamrolled into Price. Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov appeared to make contact with van Riemsdyk before he hit Price, but the goalie went to the ice and believed he was interfered with.
"It's contact to my head, so I thought it was a penalty, personally," Price said.
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, who acknowledged he didn't see a replay of the incident, was more worried about the impact of the penalty. Plekanec scored just as van Riemsdyk was being released from the box at 11:14, sneaking a shot in the tiny space between Reimer and the right post.
"We clawed back into the hockey game and then we take a penalty early in the third and they score," Carlyle said. "It was the difference in the hockey game, and the margin of error now in these games is so close that one bounce or one misplay or one unfortunate mistake cost us points."
Referee Greg Kimmerly was honored before working his 1,000th career NHL game. Director of officiating Stephen Walkom presented the Toronto native with a Tiffany crystal, and then captains Dion Phaneuf and Gionta gave Kimmerly sticks signed by the Leafs and Canadiens. ... Dave Bolland returned for the Leafs after missing 56 games with a severed tendon in the back of his left ankle. ... With Bernier scratched for the fourth straight game with a groin injury, Drew MacIntyre backed up Reimer. ... Bourque returned to the Canadiens' lineup after five games as a healthy scratch, replacing Ryan White. Defenseman Douglas Murray was in for Jarred Tinordi.