The Montreal Canadiens after having the week off were back on the ice at the Bell Centre on Saturday night as they once again faced off against their arch-rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Habs were coming off a come-from-behind 2-1 win last Saturday at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto with Montreal scoring two goals from Tyler Toffoli and Brendan Gallagher late in the third period.
Some lineup changes were made prior to the game as Tomas Tatar made his return after being a healthy scratch last game taking Corey Perry’s spot.
Saturday night was also Reverse Retro night for the Canadiens and the Habs were looking to get their first win in their new jerseys.
Through the first seven minutes of the game, it was a very tight battle with both teams jostling and trying to get their offence going. Toronto was being more effective outshooting the Habs 5-0.
The Canadiens would get the first power play opportunity of the game with five minutes left in the period when Zach Bogosian was called for slashing. Montreal’s power play came in to the game currently ranked 17th in the NHL and was 1 for 14 on their last 15 chances.
The Habs managed three shots on goal but couldn’t solve Frederik Andersen as their power play struggles continued. With 90 seconds left in the first period, Toronto almost opened the scoring when Carey Price robbed Ilya Mikheyev as he was sprawling.
Montreal took back-to-back penalties in the last minute of the first period with Victor Mete being penalized for hooking and Ben Chiarot for delay of game giving the number one power play in the league a chance to work a 5-on-3 man advantage.
The first period ended scoreless and the Leafs would enter the second period on the power play while the Canadiens were potentially looking for their league-leading 8th shorthanded goal.
Toronto opened the scoring 90 seconds into the second period when on the aforementioned 5-on-3 man advantage Toronto would set up and eventually Mitch Marner found Auston Matthews who would fire a one-timer that beat Price to make it 1-0.
With Toronto still on the power play with their goal coming just one second before Mete’s penalty expired, it didn’t take long for them to strike again as off a poor dump-out attempt by Jeff Petry, the Leafs recovered the puck in the neutral zone, and Joe Thornton found Travis Boyd at the side of the net who put the puck past Price to make it 2-0.
The Canadiens finally got on the board two minutes later when Tomas Tatar blocked a shot and he found Jesperi Kotkaniemi who went in on Andersen and beat him 5-hole to cut the lead to one.
They didn’t stop there as a mere 33 seconds later off a bad turnover Paul Byron found himself on a breakaway and beat Andersen top shelf to tie the game at two.
Toronto regained the lead just four minutes later as Marner received a great pass and managed to beat Price high glove side to make it 3-2 for the Leafs and just like that once again the Habs were trailing.
With five minutes left in the second period, the Habs were penalized once again when Mete tripped up Boyd and the Leafs went back on the power play.
Matthews didn’t need long to regain Toronto’s two-goal lead as 40 seconds into the man advantage, he took a wrist shot that beat Price blocker side.
The Canadiens responded right away as less than 30 seconds later, Joel Armia got the puck during a scramble in front of Andersen’s net and beat him 5-hole to make it 4-3.
The refs would review it but the goal was confirmed as the original on-ice call and that is when Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe challenged the goal for goaltender interference.
The challenge would prove successful as the ref confirmed there was goaltender interference on the play with Andersen’s pad being pushed into the net and the goal was waved off. The second period ended once again with Toronto up two heading into the final frame.
The Leafs would add to their lead late in the third period with six minutes left in the game as Jason Spezza found himself on a two-on-one and found Alexander Kerfoot at the side of the net who tapped the puck in for a 5-2 lead.
With 90 seconds left in the game, Tyler Toffoli made it 5-3 as he caught a puck in the air on a pass from Alexander Romanov at the blue line, dropped it in front of him, and beat Andersen with his backhand.
With 17 seconds left in regulation, Toffoli got called for slashing and that essentially ended the late comeback attempt for the Habs as the Leafs picked up the win 5-2 to gain a 10-point lead on Montreal.
These teams won’t meet again until early April and the Habs won’t have time to dwell on the loss as they are in a back-to-back situation playing the Ottawa Senators tomorrow night in the nation’s capital.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Jesperi Kotkaniemi
This young kid from Finland probably played the best game of his NHL career so far; you could see he was playing with confidence and it appears he’s rebounding from his sophomore slump. The way he was handling the puck with his speed and of course getting the first goal of the game for the Canadiens set the tone for a strong night.
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 1 shot, 2 hits, 7/11 faceoffs, 13:24 TOI
2nd Star – Tomas Tatar
After getting scratched the last game, he made a statement tonight to head coach Claude Julien getting back to his game of a hard forecheck and backcheck not to mention his assist on Montreal’s first goal. He’s starting to get his game back and things are trending on the way up even in the loss.
Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 1 shot, 11:19 TOI
3rd Star – Tyler Toffoli
He continues to prove to Vancouver that letting him go was a mistake as he scored his team-leading 11th goal of the season and doing what he does best which is play a fast, aggressive style. He continues to show to Montreal fans that he is worth what he was signed for and he is getting better every single game.
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 2 PIMS, 2 shots, 17:56 TOI
Honourable Mention – Josh Anderson
He continues to play his fast and heavy game and even if he didn’t get on the scoresheet, he looks like a player that doesn’t take a game off and shows the gamble Marc Bergevin did trading for him and signing him long term paid off.
He did take an unfortunate penalty when he got involved with Jake Muzzin late in the third but seems to play on an even keel and will need to be at his best every game if Montreal wants to be successful.
Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 2 PIMS, 2 shots, 9 hits, 17:36 TOI