Do or die. That’s where the Montreal Canadiens stood entering Game 5 against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday. Game 4 saw them put forth their most impotent effort as the offence failed to score a goal and the defence struggled to slow down Alex Galchenyuk at all. That led the team to its current predicament, being down three games to one, and seemingly out of answers.
There was a single lineup change, and it came on defence. It was not the rookie Alexander Romanov joining the lineup, but Erik Gustafsson sliding in for Brett Kulak. Dominique Ducharme’s reasoning was that Gustafsson could spark a comatose power play to life. The lines remained the same, and Carey Price again got the start as he continued to will his team to an improbable comeback.
With their backs against the wall, the Canadiens attack finally changed. Using more lateral passing in the neutral zone they were able to force the Toronto defence back a bit to open up lanes into the offensive zone. With a newfound confidence, the Habs then opened up the scoring using a nice mix of physical plays to take advantage of a Toronto mistake.
Corey Perry lined up Rasmus Sandin in the offensive zone, throwing a big hit against the boards which caused the rookie defender to hurl the puck errantly into the open ice. Joel Armia grabbed the loose puck, walked into the slot, and snapped a shot right past Jack Campbell for an early Montreal lead.
The Habs had to rely on Carey Price to keep their one-goal advantage intact. An odd-man rush ended up with Mitch Marner getting a crisp chance that Price got across the crease to deny.
Then, it was a greasy, sloppy, netfront scramble that got the Canadiens a second goal from Armia. Joel Edmundson fired a shot from the blue line that hit a mass of bodies in front of Campbell. Eric Staal and Perry chipped away as Campbell sprawled out, but it was Armia who got the final poke that pushed it over the line for a two-goal lead.
It wasn’t smooth sailing to get out of the period however, as the Leafs’ offence created a few more odd-man rushes. First was William Nylander dangling around a sliding Joel Edmundson, but it was again Price who came out on top as he batted the puck away with a quick flash of his glove. In the dying seconds of the period, Auston Matthews fed Nylander again as Shea Weber was caught out of position, but Nylander’s shot went wide of Price’s blocker and around the boards to end the period.
Period two was a wide-open affair as Montreal looked to open up on their lead, and Toronto attempted to cut into it as soon as possible. Price remained a wall in net as he fought off multiple Toronto looks, while the Canadiens were just a second off on their travels deep into the Toronto zone.
It was another dirty goal that allowed the Habs to increase their lead to three goals with another part of their Finnish entourage getting on the scoresheet. Josh Anderson chipped the puck in deep, then turned up the boards, leaving Jesperi Kotkaniemi to win the puck back. He did just that, swooping in and grabbing the puck from Rasmus Sandin, then circling to the net-front and jamming his shot home for his second goal of the playoffs.
Despite all the high danger chances the Leafs had accrued, their first goal came on arguably the ugliest chance for either side. Marner got the puck below the goal line, and despite Price’s initial stop it trickled slowly through the crease and was tapped home by Zach Hyman.
Montreal also had the game’s first power play, thanks to Hyman tripping up Nick Suzuki behind the net. I’d say how it went, but we all know exactly what happened, so the Habs’ lead stayed at two goals, right into the second intermission.
As expected, Toronto came out strong to start the third period, keeping the Canadiens on their heels through the opening minutes but still unable to sneak a second one through Price.
An interference call on Brendan Gallagher sent the Leafs to their first power play of the game. While Toronto didn’t score on their advantage, right as it ended they got within a goal as Jake Muzzin filtered a shot between Jeff Petry and Joel Edmundson to beat Price.
Toronto knotted the score up thanks to a well-timed redirect by Muzzin. Toronto cleanly gained the zone with Muzzin leaving the puck off for Alex Galchenyuk, who then let a soft shot fly toward Price. Muzzin cut across its flight path and got enough of the puck with his stick to drop it through Price’s five-hole and tie the game.
Neither team found another goal in regulation, and with the Habs’ playoff life hanging in the balance, the game went to overtime.
The Habs didn’t need three-on-three to win this overtime against Toronto. Cole Caufield picked off Galchenyuk’s pass across the top of the zone, starting a two-on-zero with Nick Suzuki. As the duo passed the puck back and forth, Caufield fed one last pass to Suzuki, who easily beat Campbell to secure the Habs’ win.
Game 6 is Saturday night, in front of a small crowd at the Bell Centre. It won’t be a ton of fans but it’s a massive opportunity for the Canadiens to pull off something truly improbable and make this a one-game showdown to move on to Round 2.