Canadiens @ Maple Leafs game recap: Montreal squanders early lead en route to frustrating loss

Montreal had their rivals down, but couldn’t deliver a knockout punch.

It was a Saturday night showdown between the Forever Rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadiens came into the match on a losing streak against their divisional opponent, but flying high after thrashing Philadelphia on Thursday. Toronto has had to overcome a few struggles, including a loss to the Capitals, in addition to Nazem Kadri being out of the lineup with a concussion.

Montreal was dealt a blow just before game time with Jonathan Drouin being a scratch from the lineup due to the flu. Drawing in for him was Nicolas Deslauriers, with Tomas Tatar taking Drouin’s spot on the top line.

Much like their previous showdowns, the focus was on Carey Price and Frederik Andersen in the early going, with Price in particular being busy between the pipes. He denied a handful of chances, including a redirection from Andreas Johnsson and an odd-man rush from Mitch Marner and John Tavares.

With Price getting it done in the defensive zone for Montreal, the offence made sure to give him some support in Toronto’s end. Max Domi fed the puck to Brett Kulak at the point, the Canadiens defender let his shot go, and it was knocked down in front of the net. From there, Andrew Shaw boxed out the Leafs defender and swatted away at the puck until he got it over Andersen’s pad for an early lead.

The momentum swung heavily in Montreal’s favour with the goal, and the offence poured the goals on quickly. Jeff Petry snagged a poorly timed pass through the neutral zone and wove his way into Toronto’s zone. As Petry drew the defenders to him, he spun and fired a perfect pass to Tatar, who ripped one by Andersen for a two-goal Canadiens lead.

Then, in an attempt to curb Montreal’s momentum, the Maple Leafs took a penalty, sending the Canadiens to the game’s first man advantage. In a shocking turn of events, a goal followed quickly. Shaw threaded a pass through the offensive zone, and with Nikita Zaitsev occupied, Petry walked in with the puck and picked the far corner for a commanding lead late in the first period.

Ron Hainsey’s egregious turnover to Brendan Gallagher nearly became a 4-0 lead, but Andersen turned the shot away. Two more Montreal power plays in the period yielded plenty of chances, but no further goals as the horn sounded.

Victor Mete started the middle period off with a holding the stick penalty as he defended a Marner rush, and the ensuing power play gave Toronto some signs of life. Morgan Rielly put the puck on Auston Matthews’s stick, and Matthews did what he does best, wiring a shot through Price’s five hole.

After weathering a heavy Toronto pushback, the Canadiens turned around and put that same pressure right back on the Leafs. A decoy at the blue line by Shaw sent Paul Byron in alone on net, forcing Andersen into a sprawling save. Domi followed the play up, leading to Andersen kicking his other leg out to deny the Canadiens’ forward of a goal. Tatar nearly had his second of the night shortly after, taking a feed from behind the net and almost sneaking his shot in on Andersen’s short side.

A dubious tripping call, helped along by some theatrics by Andersen, sent Montreal to another penalty kill. They killed off the majority of Artturi Lehkonen’s minor, even forcing Toronto’s first unit off the ice, but a cross-crease feed from Patrick Marleau to Tyler Ennis made it a one-goal game in the final two minutes of the period.

A timely save by Price on Matthews at the horn kept the Canadiens in the lead heading into the third period.

Price was called upon almost immediately as the final frame began as Matthews curled his way around Shea Weber while cutting to the net. Price stuck with the play, denying the Leafs’ star another goal and keeping Montreal in the lead.

Sitting back in the shell turned out to be a poor choice for Claude Julien’s side. A dump-in took a strange bounce off the zamboni door, and William Nylander was all over the puck to deposit it into the empty net. Price and Kulak had moved to play the puck normally, and were caught out of position due to the weird bounce, giving Nylander an easy goal.

Despite taking all of the momentum late in the game, Toronto served it up on a platter after Nylander’s goal. The Canadiens’ fourth line of Matthew Peca and Nicolas Deslauriers hemmed the Leafs in, and nearly swatted one by Andersen. Peca, in turn, drew a hooking call that Johnsson vehemently disagreed with, but all the same Montreal sent their power play back out once again.

It may have been a better option to continue playing at even strength, as the Montreal man advantage mounted zero pressure. If not for a lucky goalpost, it would have surrendered a short-handed goal to Kasperi Kapanen.

If that wasn’t bad enough, with just under two minutes to play, Zach Hyman scored while having a clear path right in front of Price and completed the comeback.

A pair of empty net goals skewed the final score, but in the end the Canadiens squandered a three goal lead, and lost a winnable game by a score of 6-3.

Next up is the Trade Deadline on Monday, and a showdown with the floundering New Jersey Devils once the dust settles.

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