What was supposed to be a memorable night for Montreal Canadiens rookie Cole Caufield was all for naught, as the offence of the Maple Leafs was on full display, as Toronto just about shut out Montreal, beating them 4-1 on Wednesday night at the Bell Centre.
The 20-year-old Caufield was playing just the second game of his NHL career, and first in Montreal, but wound up only a -1 with two shots on goal in just under 14 minutes of ice time.
Coming home was a nice change of scenery as the team returned to Montreal after having played the last five in Alberta, going 2-3, including an essential 2-1 win Monday night over the Calgary Flames.
The main story is the injury bug that has really taken a number for the Canadiens as of late. Forward Tomas Tatar was out of the lineup, joined by other forwards Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron, as well as goaltender Carey Price in the press box. Defencemen Brett Kulak and Erik Gustafsson joined them in the gallery as healthy scratches. Earlier in the day it had been announced that forward Jonathan Drouin would be taking a leave of absence from the team for personal reasons, and would be out indefinitely.
Alexander Romanov was the last of the call-ups the team can make before the end of the regular season and was inserted into tonight’s lineup, as was forward Michael Frolik, playing just his third game as a Hab.
The Maple Leafs took advantage of a few days off, having not played since Saturday, jumping out of the gate quick and fast, with William Nylander scoring on their very first shot of the night, a power play marker just 98 seconds into the game.
Just over seven minutes later, it was Auston Matthews who took a wristshot off the post that pinged past Montreal goaltender Jake Allen for his league-leading 35th goal of the season, which would eventually be determined as the game-winner. In 21 career games versus Montreal, Matthews has scored 17 times.
Former Columbus Blue Jacket captain Nick Foligno notched his third assist in his third game since lacing them up with Toronto.
Despite having a 13-3 faceoff advantage and an 11-7 shot advantage, the offence was all Toronto, who led 2-0 after one.
The Leafs continued their dominance when just about six-and-a-half minutes into the second, they cycled the puck back around to the point where blue-liner Jake Muzzin fired the puck on net, and was tipped by new Hab Jon Merrill the wrong way and went past Allen for a 3-0 lead.
Ageless wonder Joe Thornton got an assist on the goal to give him assist number 1100 in a career that started way back in 1997. A staggering stat to note is that the next active player with the most assists is Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, and he has ‘only’ 837.
The Canadiens knew they needed a spark and looked like they got one before the end of the middle stanza when a stretch pass from Jeff Petry to Nick Suzuki left him alone to come in from the slot and wire a wrist shot up high on Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell for his 10th of the season. It was the only mistake for Campbell as he prevailed with 32 saves en route to his 14th win.
The goal was too little, too late for Montreal, as they came up a bit fazed in the third, unable to really get any offence and were stonewalled on each of their nine chances.
On the other end, one final miscue by Allen behind his net paved the way for Toronto rookie Adam Brooks to get the third goal of his career. Jason Spezza, who had previously assisted on Muzzin’s goal, reached career point number 966, tied with none other than Montreal Canadiens legend Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard on the all-time list.
The victory was the fifth this season for Toronto over Montreal, and was the first time they accomplished that feat since back in 1967; the last year they won the Stanley Cup.
Montreal still has three games remaining against Toronto this season, and with Calgary not playing Wednesday night, they retain their six-point cushion for the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division.
With the win, Toronto clinched a playoff spot, and travel home to face the Vancouver Canucks tomorrow night at the ScotiaBank Arena.