Despite very different approaches to the 2018-19 season, the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs met at the Bell Centre on Saturday night eyeing the same position in the Atlantic Division’s playoff race. Just a single point back, Montreal had the ability to move ahead with a victory.
The Habs had outshot the Maple Leafs in the first meeting of the season, and they got down to business to make that happen once more right from the opening faceoff. The Canadiens put three shots on Frederik Andersen in the opening 45 seconds. A fourth shot was taken by Jeff Petry off a faceoff win from Max Domi, and Andrew Shaw was able to get his stick on it to deflect it behind the Leafs’ netminder for an early 1-0 lead.
Despite a good follow-up from the Finnish Line, the lead didn’t last long. An attempt to play the puck around the boards and out of the Canadiens zone was halted by Zach Hyman. He turned the play back the way it had come, forcing several Habs players to chase him. The scramble left Andreas Johnsson uncovered at the side of the net, and the Swede was able to get the puck past Carey Price for the tying goal. It’s was Toronto’s first good chance after Montreal’s strong start, yet it was enough to erase the cushion the home team had created.
Two minutes later, the Leafs took their first lead. With the puck at the point, Nikita Zaitsev just sent it toward the net through several bodies standing in front, and it made its way past everyone and into the net for what was just the defenceman’s second goal of the season.
Things threatened to get even worse for Montreal when Phillip Danault was called for tripping seconds later. Fortunately, the Leafs’ power play is nearly as poor as Montreal’s of late, and they had little energy in their passing and failed to generate anything dangerous enough to result in a third goal.
Montreal also squandered a man advantage — one lasting four minutes — with just one good look from Tomas Tatar in the slot to show for it as the power plays for both sides bogged down the flow of the game. Back at 5-on-5, the Canadiens were able trade a few chances with the Leafs for the rest of the period. After a few shifts spent collapsing to the slot and chasing the puck in their own zone, the Habs regained their composure and took back control of the possession game by the end of the frame.
The Canadiens were able to pick that momentum up coming out of the break. Jeff Petry blasted a shot off the post 30 seconds in, but 40 seconds later the Canadiens had their tying goal. Tatar took a breakout pass from Shea Weber in his own zone, skated up the ice, and entered the Leafs end, sending a puck in high on Andersen. The goaltender never seemed to pick the puck up, and it fluttered over his shoulder to put the game back on even terms.
With the score reset, the game settled into a forechecking battle in the second period. The Leafs had two more power plays, but those only served to slow things down and prevent any energy from building. After a high-tempo first period, the second was more of a chess match as neither team seemed to want to make a mistake that would lead to a go-ahead goal.
The third started out with that similar style, and it was the Canadiens’ turn to get a momentumless power play a third of the way through. But this time the power play didn’t go by without a goal being scored.
Max Domi attacked the blue line with speed, and had Shaw in position to gain the zone and return the puck back to him in stride. With Brendan Gallagher on his flank racing in with speed as well, the two forced Andersen to retreat into his net. The goaltender ended up knocking the net off, but at the same time that Gallagher had taken Domi’s pass and put it toward the net. The puck went over the goal line, and despite the net having been dislodged, the goal stood on the continuation of the play.
As had happened at the start of the game, the Leafs found a way to respond immediately after falling behind. Shaw’s attempt to gain the offensive blue line wasn’t as smooth as his previous one had been, and that allowed John Tavares to transition the play the other way, hitting William Nylander with a pass in the neutral zone. The forward made his way to the circle and then shot the puck far-side, beating Price for the tying goal.
The marker gave the Leafs a lot of energy, and they spent the next few minutes hemming the Canadiens in their own zone and launching several shots toward the goal. Montreal was able to survive the flurry with the game still tied, and things settled in once again as the two sides seemed fairly content to play for overtime.
Joel Armia didn’t get that memo. On a shift late in regulation, he worked the puck from behind the goal line to the front of the net in an attempt to stuff it in, and Zaitsev had to turn and fire the puck away from the net to clear the pressure, getting it too high and over the glass.
While the Canadiens were able to set up in the final 30 seconds of regulation, they couldn’t find the late winning goal, and the game went to overtime.
With the puck in Toronto’s end in the extra frame, the four skaters on the ice were unable to get a great chance versus the three Leafs out to defend them. After some ineffective zone time, the Canadiens called their timeout to design a play to try to turn the advantage into the final goal of the game.
Whatever the play Kirk Muller drew up for them, the Habs never got a chance to execute it as they were unable to find their way back into the offensive zone. The 90 seconds of 4-on-3 time went by without a single shot on net as the Canadiens saw a great opportunity to gain the extra point go by the wayside.
It was the last attempt they’d have at securing the win. Not long after the penalty came to an end and a whistle allowed the game to get to 3-on-3 for the first time, a cross at the blue line between Mitch Marner and Tavares allowed the former Islanders captain to gain some space on Phillip Danault, and he went in with plenty of space to lift the game-winning goal over Price.
The Canadiens had their chances to come away with the win, and that in itself is a noteworthy result from the game, even if Montreal would have preferred to be at least tied with Toronto in the standings rather than two points back. They outshot the Leafs for the second time this season, and put on enough pressure to draw the majority of the power plays in the game. While the result wasn’t ideal, the performance was admirable, and something the Canadiens can add to their recent run of success.
Now with points in their last six games, and 10 of their last 11, the Canadiens get another break in their schedule with four days off until their next game. It will be played on the road in Nashville as the Canadiens take on the Predators before moving on to Tampa Bay. It’s a tough stretch in the schedule, but one the Canadiens have been managing in style. It will be a challenge eagerly anticipated by a confident group.