Two wins in a row. Do you know how many times the Montreal Canadiens have had a streak of two wins this season if we disregard the 7-1-2-start? Only once. That two-game winning streak was actually a three-game streak coinciding around the team’s week long break due to a positive COVID test. So this is almost uncharted territory for the Habs, having won back-to-back games this weekend.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, meanwhile, entered this contest with five consecutive wins under their belt. During the last four of them, they had only conceded one goal per game. Since the Maple Leafs’ defence is apparently clickling right now, that first goal could have proved crucial.
Montreal came out looking speedy and focused, nearly taking the lead off a Joel Armia/Nick Suzuki-powered rush. Unluckily, Toronto scored on what was merely their second shot of the early evening. Morgan Rielly released a point shot through traffic, with Alex Galchenyuk doing the gritty work and providing the screen.
A bit later, Galchenyuk got a little too hot in his forechecking right after a faceoff and was awarded with a hooking call and two minutes of cooldown in the penalty box. Dominique Ducharme released some of his youngest talent onto the ice, forming a power-play unit with Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Alexander Romanov, and Cole Caufield. The young guns nearly created the equalizer when the first two set the latter up for a shot, but it rang off the bar. In the following sequence, Romanov demonstrated the negative aspects of youth, with an arrogant giveaway as the last man standing on the offensive blue line. Mitch Marner got a free ride after stealing the puck, but was thankfully unable to capitalize and double the lead.
At the beginning of the second period, Montreal tied up the game with a power-play goal. After establishing possession in the offensive zone, Jeff Petry served Suzuki in his preferred position out right. Instead of seeking shot, Suzuki delivered a perfect pass across the seam where Tyler Toffoli pounced on the puck like a hungry shark. The goal was Toffoli’s 28th of the season.
The 2021 Canadiens have a tendency to shoot themsleves in the foot as soon as things start to go their way. Right after the game-tying goal, Romanov took a delay-of-game penalty for lifting the puck over the glass. As soon as the penalty was killed off, Toffoli tripped up Wayne Simmonds and it was time for two additional minutes playing four-against-five.
Two excellent penalty kills meant that the score remained even. The Canadiens could even have taken the lead during the first of the them when hard forechecking from Jake Evans and Artturi Lehkonen resulted in a two-on-one breakaway. Evans served Lehkonen at the opportune moment, but Jack Campbell was awake and determined to not break his streak of one conceded goal per game.
With two minutes left to play of the second period, Auston Matthews (who else?) scored the Leafs’ second goal of the night to regain the lead. Matthews was heavily guarded by Joel Edmundson in front of the net, but he still managed to get his stick on the puck for a redirect off Edmundson’s leg on a point shot from Jake Muzzin.
Five minutes into the third period, Ben Chiarot could have ended his drought of 30 games by burying a rebound off the rush on a delayed penalty, but Campell continued to do his work and be in the way of a game-tying goal.
The same could be said minutes later when Josh Anderson pounced on a rebound in the crease. Campbell, once again, was in the right spot to get a pad on the puck.
With 1:06 left to play, Montreal took a timeout to discuss how to best get results with an extra skater on the ice. After winning the faceoff, Petry, Toffoli and Suzuki held the puck in the zone before accelerating play. Suzuki entered his preferred shooting destination, but just as was the case during the first goal, he chose the pass instead of finishing himself. Right beside the net stood an unguarded Phillip Danault, who made his best Brendan Gallagher-impression and scored from up close. A terrific setup play taken straight out of the Laval Rocket and Alex Burrows’s bag of tricks.
An intense overtime battle followed. Toffoli got a breakaway rushing all alone from the defensive blue line. With his incredible poise for scoring goals this year, most people, myself included, assumed he would end the game right then and there, but the puck whistled past Campbell’s post.
Montreal did their best to maintain possession, trying to not be overly eager for the game-winner but instead waiting to find the right moment to shoot. During one of these setups, Toronto stole the puck to create a two-on-zero rush against Jake Allen. With those two men being Matthews and Marner, most people, myself included, assumed they would end the game right there and then, but the two-headed monster got a little too fancy in their attempt to pass the puck between each other all the way into the net.
With 20 seconds left to play, while the Maple Leafs were busy pondering on who should take the penalties in the shootout, Petry saw that a short sniper was entering the slot. With the puck on his blade, Caufield deked, dealt, and delivered past Campbell.
For the second game in a row, Montreal won a game in overtime, and for the second game in a row, the game-winner was a 5’7” rookie by the name of Cole Caufield. What a way to start your NHL career!
Montreal now have three wins in a row, and since the Winnipeg Jets continue to lose –- it’s currently up to seven in a row for them –- the Canadiens are at present tied for third place in the North Division.