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Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs game recap: No luck of the Irish

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The Habs were shut out by a bitter rival on St. Patrick’s Day.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

An injury-riddled Montreal Canadiens squad faced off against a familiar foe in the playoff-bound Toronto Maple Leafs, and an old friend in Tomas Plekanec. Brendan Gallagher and some other members of the Canadiens paid homage to the veteran centre by wearing turtlenecks as the two teams took the ice for the warm-up.

Both teams seemed evenly matched in the opening half of the first period. Strong defensive play on both ends of the ice limited scoring chances, while Charlie Lindgren and Curtis McElhinney turned away all of the few shots they faced during that span.

But the second half of the period wasn’t as kind to the Canadiens, as the Leafs began to press. The late pressure resulted in Toronto’s first power play of the game, when Alex Galchenyuk was called for closing his hand on the puck with just over five minutes to play.

Lindgren made an exceptional save on Tyler Bozak to briefly keep it a goalless game.

William Nylander eventually broke the deadlock on the man advantage. His power-play goal gave the Leafs a 1-0 lead, one they would carry over to the second period.

The Canadiens continued to struggle in the second, as the Leafs used the momentum from their first goal to push for more. It would pay of just three minutes in when Kasperi Kapanen beat Lindgren one-on-one to double Toronto’s lead.

It was all blue and white from there on out, as the Leafs set up a shooting gallery in the Canadiens’ end. A hemmed-in Montreal squad barely held off the Toronto onslaught, before eventually giving the Maple Leafs their second power-play opportunity of the night a little over eight minutes in.

Image credit: HockeyStats.ca

With Karl Alzner serving two minutes for holding, the Canadiens penalty kill got back to work. Luckily, the second time was the charm for the team, as Lindgren kept the Leafs from capitalizing.

Kapanen potted another goal with less than five minutes to go in the period, briefly extending Toronto’s lead. But a well-timed coach’s challenge from Claude Julien saw the call on the ice overturned due to goaltender interference, keeping it a 2-0 game.

Montreal would nearly escape the period without surrendering another goal, but a late penalty called against Michael McCarron put Toronto back on the man advantage.

With McCarron sent off for high-sticking Connor Brown, the Canadiens scrambled to kill their third penalty of the game. Despite a few great saves by Lindgren, the Leafs got their long-awaited third goal. Nazem Kadri’s power-play marker gave his team a daunting 3-0 lead heading into the final frame.

Both teams got more chippy in the third, as they attempted to play a more physical game. Though referees were content to let most of the extracurricular activities go, Nicolas Deslauriers ended up getting the period’s first penalty when he got two minutes for slashing just over seven minutes in. The resulting Leafs power play was short-lived however, as Bozak responded by taking a tripping penalty of his own 15 seconds later.

In one of the few highlights for the Habs’ skaters in the game, Jonathan Drouin put on a clinic as he wove between Toronto’s defenders with ease to get some of Montreal’s best scoring chances of the night. But he couldn’t get one past McElhinney in the third to bring the Canadiens within two.

The Maple Leafs added one last time before the clock ran out, as Andreas Johnsson scored his first career NHL goal. It made it 4-0 for Toronto, as the Canadiens were once again shut out on the road.

Thoughts

  • The Canadiens have played a lot of bad hockey this season, but their performance in the second period of this game was truly awful. Montreal was outshot 26-9 in the frame, and out-attempted 51-15. The Habs were constantly hemmed into their own zone and seemingly had no answer for the Leafs’ offensive pressure. If not for Charlie Lindgren’s strong presence in net and a timely goalie interference challenge, this game could have gotten out of reach much quicker for the Habs.
  • Speed kills. Montreal’s defence corps struggled to match up against the speed of Toronto’s forwards. Time and time again, the Leafs were simply skating past Canadiens defenders. It almost seemed as though Montreal’s defence was easily panicked when Toronto’s forwards gained the zone, and they compensated by pulling closer to their goaltender, instead of moving out to challenge the puck-carrier or forcing a play back the other way.
  • Lindgren deserved better. If there was one player on the Canadiens who actually seemed to show up for this game, it was Lindgren. Not only did he have to contend with a porous penalty kill, he also had to fend of quite a number of shots from the team in blue-and-white. Lindgren made a ridiculous 45 saves on the night in a losing effort, and it is difficult to blame him for any of the goals given up.