On Saturday night, the Habs took on the Maple Leafs for the season finale. Usually, this game would bring some good banter between the two largest fan bases in the league. In recent years though, this rivalry has been replaced by complacency as the Leafs have struggled to compete. This season, the tables have turned, and the Montreal fan base was the one largely rooting against their team in the final game of the year while the Leafs prepared for their postseason, not yet knowing who their opponents will be.
For the occasion, Claude Julien dressed what has become the customary lineup to end the season with Carey Price playing the last game of the year. It yielded customary results too, as the Leafs ended the season on a winning note as they swept the season series, taking the finale by a 4-2 score.
The opening three minutes of the contest were controlled by the Maple Leafs as the play was largely spent in Price’s zone. Some credit can be given to the Montreal blue line who did a good job of keeping the Leafs to the perimeter and the chances to a minimum as Price only really had to make one good stop. As the fourth minute of play was ending, a solid breakout by Brett Lernout and Logan Shaw allowed Kerby Rychel to find Mike Reilly at the top of the Toronto zone and Reilly rang a slap shot off the crossbar to eliminate the first good Habs chance on the night. After this chance, both teams exchanged some excellent zone time with the Canadiens fourth line coming close to score, and the Leafs responded with a good shift from the Nazem Kadri line that forced both Frederik Andersen and Price to be sharp early on.
The Habs controlled much of the play over the next ten minutes, though they were mostly content to play on the perimeter, making life easy for the Leafs defenders. The Leafs fought back as the period entered its final quarter. That’s when Artturi Lehkonen got his stick caught in a skate and was sent to the box for tripping. After a few great chances for the Leafs including Jake Gardiner ringing a shot off the post, they finally beat Price with 1:55 remaining in the period. William Nylander sold a shot before making a beautiful cross-ice offensive zone pass to Auston Matthews who had an empty net to open the scoring.
The Habs came out flying to start the second as Brendan Gallagher, Noah Juulsen, and Nicolas Deslauriers were all stopped by Andersen as the Leafs were hemmed into their zone. With six minutes expired in the period, Zach Hyman took the Leafs first penalty of the night as he held onto Jordie Been after losing his stick in the neutral zone. The Habs lost both faceoffs with the man advantage which took a giant bite out of their power play time, though they were able to get one great chance organized as Jonathan Drouin sent a pass to Gallagher at the goal mouth, who immediately sent it across to Alex Galchenyuk who had come down from his usual spot. Galchenyuk missed the net with his shot and the Habs’ power play was incapable of getting on the board, this time.
The Leafs gained momentum from the penalty kill and quickly attacked the Habs zone. Luckily for Montreal, after a few saves from Price, Mitch Marner was unlucky as his swipe at the puck ended up in Karl Alzner’s skate sending the Habs right back to the man advantage. This time, the Habs were quickly in control in the Leafs zone and even if they were not in their customary positions, Jeff Petry managed to get a puck across to Gallagher who made a nice play only to be denied by Andersen. This was really all they would muster in terms of an attack on this second advantage.
With seven minutes to play, Deslauriers took a bad penalty with a late hit in the offensive zone against Gardiner. Toronto’s power play was dangerous once again, though Price was up to the task this time. Finally, with 3:55 to play, the Habs evened the score when a completely missed breakout attempt from the fourth line bounced around and landed on McCarron’s stick. Daniel Carr stretched to stay onside and McCarron passed it off to Rychel, who put it on net since Carr was crashing. The rebound came out to McCarron who returned it towards the net before Carr batted it out of the air and into the net to tie the game. Price would put the exclamation mark on the period as he made a fantastic glove save. However, Byron Froese ruined the momentum by taking yet another offensive zone penalty with under two minutes to play in the period.
The way the Habs ended the second period was worrisome, and the way that the Leafs started the third did little to ease those concerns. As expected, Toronto scored on their first rush of the period as Matthews and Gardiner created a zone entry and a shot on goal and Zach Hyman was all over the rebound to restore the Toronto lead. The Montreal response to the goal was excellent as the Jacob de la Rose line spent most of the next shift in the Toronto zone with Lehkonen missing the net on a backhand that could have been dangerous.
In a game that included very little emotion or dirty play, Leo Komarov then decided to be a complete clown and run Price. Fortunately for him, the Montreal power play was so disorganized that the best chances belonged to Toronto over the two minutes. As the Komarov penalty was expiring, McCarron wanted to prove that more than one clown was playing on this night. He inexplicably slashed Morgan Reilly on a late forecheck and late hit (again in the offensive zone). After his penalty was called, he (not very coyly) tried to lure a Leaf player with him but only made himself look even dumber. Much like Komarov, McCarron was lucky that his teammates stepped up and bailed him out. The Habs had a few good chances trying to tie the game, but the sense of urgency simply wasn’t there.
The Leafs really took control of the game with five minutes to play and with 3:45 to play, McCarron took his second penalty of the night, this time a trip on Matthews that likely prevented a goal. The goal prevention would prove useless as the Leafs would eventually score for the second time on the power play. After Marner made Jordie Benn look like a pylon to gain the zone, the puck was controlled by the Leafs until a fumble by Tyler Bozak fooled the penalty kill. Bozak quickly regained control and found Kadri in the slot who snuck a backhand by Price for a two-goal lead.
Moments later, Matthews took a penalty for cross-checking Carr. The Habs finally scored on a man advantage as Petry sent a pass toward Galchenyuk that was redirected in by Ron Hainsey instead to make it 3-2. In the dying seconds, Price misplayed a puck and Patrick Marleau mercifully ended the season into an empty net with 10 seconds to play as the Habs hit the links for a long summer to recover from a brutal season.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star – Daniel Carr
The poor man’s Brendan Gallagher was one of the few players that looked consistently engaged in this game and battling for loose pucks. He was rewarded with the first goal of the night for the Habs, but it seemed obvious that he was trying to send a message to management that he belongs in Montreal next year.
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 1 shot, 14:05 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Mike Reilly
A look at the stat sheet would indicate that Reilly had a very pedestrian night, a statement that would be entirely incorrect. Reilly was involved in the play all night long. He used his stick to take away some important Toronto chances and rushes, and he often supported the attack as the late option as shown by his shot total on the night. This is the type of effort that Reilly needs to repeat to make sure he’s on the opening day roster in October.
Stats: 0 points, +1 rating, 4 shots, 1 hit, 16:21 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jeff Petry
Petry was the leader by default on the blueline for way too many games this season. Surprisingly, he played much better in this role than he did playing second pairing minutes earlier in the season. If Petry can learn to play like he did this season with a reduction in ice-time and expectations, then 2018-2019 might just be better than this one. Heck, it can’t get much worse, right?
Stats: 1 goal, 0 rating, 3 shots, 21:46 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – The entire hockey world
Everyone taking the time to read this game review has certainly been made aware of the Humboldt Broncos incident and are hopefully inspired by the response in the hockey community to support the victims of such a tragic event. This certainly seems trivial, but I was once a player, and these buses were a part of weekly routines. Seeing the accident is certainly spooky considering the number of teams that regularly travel via this method, and that I someday hope to see my son learn a variety of life lessons through these same means. As a parent of two, I can say that the image of the boys holding hands in the hospital was absolutely gut-wrenching as I struggle to even write that I hope to never receive a phone call like the ones far too many parents were forced to handle yesterday. My heavy heart is overcome with pride when the second image, this time of the Jets and Blackhawks together at centre ice comes into focus. My sincerest condolences go out to the families, communities, and everyone else involved in this most difficult time. Taking nothing away from this last sentiment, I hope many will join me in seeing the silver lining (so to speak) as I end with congratulating to the entire hockey community for their inspiring reaction to these events.