There’s been plenty said about the Montreal Canadiens going into Game 4 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team was getting vintage goaltending from Carey Price, who was providing the Habs with a performance every single night to keep the team even remotely competitive. The offence however still lagged far behind, even with the arrival of Cole Caufield into the regular lineup. The rookie winger was arguably the best forward on the ice for the Canadiens on Monday night, and when he was leaned on he more than held up well.
Staring a potential 3-1 deficit in the face, Dominique Ducharme had no choice but to trust in his offensive dynamos. However, the absences of Artturi Lehkonen and Jake Evans due to injuries hindered the ability to play such an energetic game. The ultimate result was Eric Staal rejoining the lineup, while the defence remained the same.
Montreal did not have the most ideal of starts, with Jason Spezza camping out at centre ice and taking advantage of a weak Brendan Gallagher wrist shot that went the other way. Spezza was all alone in the offensive zone, but Price sealed his pads and prevented the puck from trickling in. It wasn’t the only breakaway Price had to shut down, with Mitch Marner sneaking behind the defence and drawing a slashing call in the process.
The penalty-killers fended off Toronto fairly easily, with Joel Armia even clearing the puck between his legs without a stick to help keep the game scoreless in the opening minutes. With a strong kill behind them, the Habs’ offence started to push their way back into the game, with a handful of tipped chances around Jack Campbell’s net.
Staal managed to draw a slashing call as he drove through the Toronto zone. With the man advantage Montreal managed a great cycle, but landed just one shot on Campbell before it expired. They didn’t have to wait long for a second opportunity though, as a too many men on the ice penalty put them right back on the power play.
The second chance went far worse than the first, with a misplayed puck by Jeff Petry turning into an odd-man rush for the Leafs. It was a last-second kick of the leg by Nick Suzuki that prevented it from becoming a short-handed goal. With the power play misfiring and both goalies sharp, the first period ended scoreless, with Toronto holding a slight edge in shots.
The second-period woes in this series are well-documented, and they continued as the red-hot William Nylander buried the game’s opening goal. Alexander Kerfoot fed a pass along to Alex Galchenyuk, who spun and fired a behind-the-back pass for Nylander to fire in for his fourth goal of the series.
The Canadiens’ offence continued to sputter after the Leafs’ goal, and then Toronto did what they’ve done all series. They went down the ice, cutting through the Montreal defence before Galchenyuk threaded a pass for Jason Spezza to direct past Price for a two-goal Toronto lead.
That lead increased to three on a power play after the officials missed Kerfoot tripping Paul Byron on the forecheck. A quick series of passes led to Joe Thornton burying it at the side of the net to create a formidable mountain for the Habs.
A late-period power play saw Gallagher ring a shot off the iron, and Montreal went into the second intermission once again searching for any sort of answer to the Maple Leafs.
Montreal did pretty much nothing for the first seven minutes of the period, and were given the smallest life line after Thornton tripped up Staal in the offensive zone. Then they did nothing, again. The Habs then immediately gave up a rush to Zach Hyman after the penalty expired that required another immense glove save from Carey Price to deny Toronto a fourth goal.
With over four minutes left to play, Montreal pulled Carey Price for the extra attacker to try to create any sort of offence. Even after Toronto iced the puck the Canadiens failed to keep the zone and Alex Galchenyuk buried a fourth goal into the empty net. That was more than enough to see out the remainder of the game as Montreal failed once more to find Carey Price any sort of support in a loss.
Through four games, Montreal’s goal output is four. For a team built for the playoffs, it’s not good enough, and it’s another sad chapter to end what started off as a promising season. Game 5 is Thursday night at 7:00 PM, and hopefully the Canadiens show more urgency as they face elimination for the first time.