With the predictions of pundits and media members being what they were, the Montreal Canadiens returning to home ice after splitting the two games in Toronto was a huge victory in and of itself. Now facing a Toronto team that ran the show in Game 2, Montreal had to adjust their attack, this time with the benefit of last change on home ice. Jake Evans wasn’t quite fit enough to play, and Eric Staal also had picked up a lingering knock sometime during Game 2 as well.
That meant Tomas Tatar stayed in the lineup after initially being a healthy scratch when morning skate started. Tatar’s status was due to the insertion of Cole Caufield into the lineup as Dominique Ducharme attempted to jumpstart the offence, and the meagre power play. Ben Chiarot rejoined Shea Weber on the top pair while Brett Kulak slid down alongside Jon Merrill on the third.
Montreal got the early pressure, and thanks to an errant Alex Galchenyuk stick, drew a double minor to bring a struggling power play out for an early chance to figure itself out. Cole Caufield nearly made it all happen, ringing a heavy shot off the crossbar. Even with the four-minute advantage, Montreal failed to register an official shot on net and the game remained scoreless.
The Habs had their legs under them, testing Campbell several times, including a Corey Perry tip shot on a Joel Edmundson slap-pass to the crease. However, an Artturi Lehkonen puck over glass penalty forced the Habs’ penalty-killers to take the ice. Through the opening moments, they did well to deny the Maple Leafs attackers any sort of open shooting lane. Then they picked an inopportune time to change, giving Toronto an odd-man rush into the zone, with William Nylander feeding a pass to Jason Spezza at the side of the net.
Carey Price was originally down to face a shot, but with a massive push he got back across his net, and denied Spezza a goal with the paddle of his stick as he dove at the last second.
Montreal’s power play to follow up the kill impotently did nothing, and a Tyler Toffoli unsportsmanlike penalty for a bodycheck on a delayed offside cut it short.
The Canadiens’ composure dipped as the second period started, with the defence struggling to start a breakout and Corey Perry being called for a high stick on Wayne Simmonds as well. Perry didn’t serve the minor as he headed to the locker room while the penalty-killers went to work. The short-handed unit performed admirably once more, shutting down the Toronto attack as the play returned to even strength.
At five-on-five Toronto finally broke the deadlock. After an icing from Shea Weber, the Leafs won the draw and the puck came to William Nylander. The Toronto winger snapped a shot toward Price, and it caught part of Chiarot’s stick, going just wide of Price’s toe and into the net.
Montreal then spent nearly three full minutes hemmed in their own zone, looking so bad it seemed like Toronto was running a power play. If not for Carey Price standing on his head, the deficit likely would have been more. It took the Habs doing something they hadn’t done all night to finally get on the scoreboard: they won a 50/50 battle in the neutral zone.
Tomas Tatar outworked a Leaf near the benches, chipping a pass along to Corey Perry, who in turn passed it to a streaking Nick Suzuki. As Suzuki broke in, he was able to back Morgan Rielly off and then wire his shot past Campbell to tie the game.
The lead wasn’t theirs for long as another icing put the Canadiens back in the defensive zone late in the period. The Habs then lost the draw again, giving Morgan Rielly ample space to make a play at the top of the crease. Price guessed pass, Rielly, took the shot, and the puck went over the goalie’s shoulder and put Toronto back on top.
Price stole the show as the period came to a close, denying Zach Hyman, then Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner twice on the same sequence to keep the Toronto lead at just one as the second period ended.
Unlike Game 2, Montreal did fight back to start the third after killing off the final moments of a Ben Chiarot minor penalty. Their entire attack was riding heavily on the play of Caufield, with the rookie winger making himself a problem every time he crossed into the Toronto zone.
Wave after wave of Habs attack crashed in on Campbell, who was busy for the first time in a while, denying Josh Anderson and Tatar in close as Montreal swarmed all over the Leaf zone. Montreal relentlessly hammered away, and as Price departed for the bench they threw the throttle open for a final attack.
They nearly found the tying goal, but Perry’s shot was denied and Caufield’s last-gasp chance went for naught. It took the Canadiens 45 minutes to trust their offence enough to open it up, and when they did, they finally put Toronto back on their heels.
With a massive Game 4 tonight, the Canadiens will need to channel that same energy right from puck drop.