The Montreal Canadiens had improbably come back to tie their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, forcing a Game 7 for the ages. The Habs overcame a pair of own-goals to stun Toronto in overtime in Game 6, putting the biggest spotlight possible on the Scotiabank Arena on Monday night.
Toronto was still without John Tavares, and he was joined on the injured list by Jake Muzzin, who sustained a lower-body injury during the second period of Game 6. Dominique Ducharme changed nothing from his lineup that secured a victory on Saturday night.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends.
Through the opening minutes, both sides traded low-percentage chances in the offensive zone, with neither side fully committing to an all-out press. Montreal had a good chance to open the scoring when Erik Gustafsson flung a backhand shot on Jack Campbell, with Jesperi Kotkaniemi getting a piece of it to redirect it on net, but it was fought off by Campbell in tight.
The best chance for either side ended up just missing on the end of Josh Anderson’s stick. Paul Byron wove his way around the Leafs defenders, then slid a pass over a sprawled Toronto defender, to the tape of Anderson’s stick. The power forward mishandled it, fumbling the puck and failing to actually threaten Campbell at all.
Toronto had a couple of looks off a pair of icings from the Habs, forcing Ben Chiarot to be stuck on the ice for nearly two minutes. Carey Price stood tall, and some smart clearance work allowed them to weather the threat and begin their counter-punch. In that counter was Nick Suzuki getting a clean look on Campbell, snapping a shot off his mask hard enough to pop the strap on the back, creating a stoppage in play.
It did look like the teams planned to head to the intermission with the game scoreless, though a late push from the Leafs’ top line forced Price to make one last crucial stop as the horn sounded.
Montreal found its neutral-zone attack in the second period, using the middle of the ice to push back the Toronto defence and attack. Then, it was a crafty veteran play by Eric Staal that created the game’s first goal. Mitch Marner attempted to gain the zone, but had the puck poked off his stick by Staal, and it was picked up by Brendan Gallagher.
The Habs winger plowed ahead bravely, and let a shot fly that Campbell seemingly had a perfect read on it. But the puck went right through his five-hole and into the back of the net, putting the Canadiens up by a goal early in the second period.
Then it was the Carey Price Show as the Canadiens’ defence allowed Toronto to attack seemingly at will as their breakout game got a bit sloppy. Twice he was called upon to kick out the pad, denying Zach Hyman once then again after Nick Foligno created an odd-man situation at the net. Toronto began to find their rhythm a bit, but the Canadiens were able to keep in lock-step with them on each shift.
Josh Anderson’s cursed playoff continued, as a Campbell turnover behind his net landed on his stick with a yawning cage in front, but Anderson missed it entirely with a slapshot. Then it was the Toronto big guns cranking up the pressure, forcing Price to make another lunging cross-crease save.
Somehow, Montreal drew the game’s first penalty after the officials had opted to ignore Eric Staal taking down a Leafs player in the corner. It didn’t take long for the man advantage to capitalize. Tyler Toffoli missed the first Nick Suzuki feed to the slot, but a keep-in by Erik Gustafsson reloaded the attack. This time Suzuki strode into his spot on the fringe of the faceoff dot where he fired a shot cleanly on net, and Corey Perry’s knee redirected it by Campbell to double the Montreal lead.
The inevitable makeup call did come for the Leafs, with Joel Armia being called for tripping as the period came to an end. That meant Toronto had a full two minute power play to start the biggest period of their season.
Staring down a massive penalty kill, the Canadiens set out to keep their lead intact by any means necessary. The penalty-killers did just that, boxing out players at the side of the net, and Jake Evans ended up darting through multiple zones for a beautiful short-handed chance.
With the penalty killed, the Canadiens continued to make life a nuisance for any Toronto player in their zone, clogging up every open lane that the Leafs attempted to occupy. However, a poorly timed interference penalty on Shea Weber brought the penalty-killers back out onto the ice, needing another huge showing once more.
To say they got that showing is underselling the Herculean effort of Carey Price. He stonewalled every Leaf effort, including a sliding toe save to deny William Nylander a goal, and again the Habs pushed it back to even strength.
With Campbell on the bench with over three minutes to go, the Canadiens refused to let Toronto back in it. Eric Staal outworked the Toronto attack on the boards, chipping the puck to Toffoli, who buried it into the empty net for the three-goal lead.
Toronto pulled one back at the side of the net, but Price refused to budge one more inch. That was all the Habs needed, and once more the Toronto Maple Leafs completed another improbable collapse, while the Montreal Canadiens overcame a 3-1 hill many believed impossible with a 3-1 score in Game 7.
Montreal now heads to Winnipeg for a series with Connor Hellebuyck and the Jets, a tantalizing matchup for goalie fans everywhere.