It was only 144 seconds of potential panic this time but Nazem Kadri could not tell a lie about the thoughts drifting up and down the visitor’s bench at the Bell Centre.

With a 4-2 lead late in the third period of a choppy game Tuesday night the Leafs were in danger of crashing their way into the new season the same way the previous one had ended with a thud.

Lars Eller had scored his second of the game at 17:38 of the third and suddenly a cruise-control win morphed into throat-constricting crunch time.

The stakes were much lower than Boston in May of course but opening night always holds its own special cache. So a big pad save by James Reimer in the final minute here and a lack of panic there and this time the Leafs escaped with a grinding 4-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

Never pretty and at one point rather gruesome a third-period goal from Leafs newcomer Mason Raymond stood up as the game winner giving Toronto a fourth consecutive win over its Original Six rival.

It was not without sweat and nerves in those final moments however on a night where winning the special teams battle provided the final margin.

“It was pretty dramatic but we stuck in there” Kadri said of the conclusion which included a big Reimer stop seconds before the clock expired. “Obviously everyone kind of tightened up. We were under a little bit of pressure there but we made sure we were communicating and everyone was responsible in their own end. We’ve done a lot of work in our D-zone for situations like this preparing ourselves.”

It turned out to be a wildly eventful day at the Bell Centre from start to finish. It began with a mega-contract extension for Leafs leading scorer Phil Kessel turned sickening when Canadiens enforcer George Parros was taken from the ice on a stretcher and ultimately ended with a Leafs win to kick off their new life in the NHL’s new-look Atlantic Division.

The two teams combined for 33 first-period shots in an end-to-end shinny fest that looked fast and fun but was tough for the coaches to watch.

“First games are rough” said Leafs bench boss Randy Carlyle who is 4-0 versus the Habs in his time behind the Toronto bench. “We’ve got some defensive work to do for sure. We’re fortunate we were on the right side of the game.”

The only reason they were arguably was because of the special teams that are such a priority to Carlyle. First up was a power-play goal 8:01 into the game from James van Riemsdyk on a five-on-three and then Tyler Bozak’s pickpocket of Habs defenceman Andrei Markov that led to a short-handed breakaway goal in the third period.

“Early in the season special teams usually have a huge impact on the success or failure of your group” Carlyle said. “Tonight I thought special teams was the difference in the game.”