The Habs kicked off the last crazy busy week of four games on Monday night facing a team they’ve struggled against this season in the Toronto Maple Leafs. After two great comeback wins, facing the top seed of the division was a good test, one that coach Ducharme opted to face with no changes to his skaters which was an easy decision considering no player was returning from the long injury list. The one change was between the pipes as Jake Allen returned to his crease after Cayden Primeau performed well on Saturday. Allen faced Jack Campbell making for an interesting matchup and an interesting match it was as the Habs clawed their way back for a third consecutive game to earn a 3-2 overtime victory.
The first period started nicely for the Habs as Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Tyler Toffoli were stopped on early chances as the Habs controlled the play early. This momentum was quickly taken away when a relatively soft wrist shot by Morgan Reilly hit Ben Chiarot in front of the net and fooled Allen as Toronto took a 1-0 lead.
The Leafs were suddenly all over the Habs following the goal as Allen had to stand on his head to keep his team in the game. Then, with 9:27 expired, Alex Galchenyuk was penalized for hooking but the Habs were unable to take advantage of their first power play, though Cole Caufield did ring a shot off the post.
The second half of the period saw the Habs play really aggressive hockey and the result was chances at both ends of the ice. While this made for a fun period to watch, it certainly was not the style wished for from the coaches of the Habs facing the high-octane Leafs.
The Habs were getting their scoring chances though, they just weren’t finishing as Josh Anderson came close to tying it before William Nylander was called for interference on a play that isn’t called nearly enough (including on the Habs). This second man advantage was a thing of beauty as the Habs controlled the puck with Kotkaniemi, Alexander Romanov, and Caufield the authors of some dangerous scoring chances. The scoring chances at both ends continued in the final moments of the period as Allen was strong on a few scoring chances and Campbell made his best save of the period on Eric Staal with a few minutes left.
The second period started with an aggressive Anderson that caused a scoring chance and then a Nick Foligno penalty meaning that Montreal got their third penalty of the game. Full credit to Toffoli and Joel Armia on this power play for winning a long list of 50-50 battles early to keep the puck in the offensive zone. The result was a beautiful passing play between Jeff Petry and Nick Suzuki that ended with an awesome cross-ice pass to Toffoli who buried his 28th of this shortened season. The next shift saw Romanov, who had a rather rough first period, take a penalty for delay of game.
The Leafs got plenty of zone time, but the best chance of their advantage went to Artturi Lehkonen as he accepted a cross-ice pass from Jake Evans on a 2-on-1 only to be robbed by Campbell. The shift that followed the first power play saw the make-up calls continue as Toffoli was assessed a rather soft tripping penalty. The Leafs’ second power play saw them continue to control the play but this time it was Allen who made the important plays for the Habs who survived the penalty kill before stopping Nylander on a breakaway.
The second half of the game started with Brett Kulak replacing Romanov on the top pairing with Chiarot. While I would not usually like a move like this, it seemed quite justified in this game as Romanov was struggling. This was the first segment of the game that had a bit of a downturn in scoring chances despite both teams continuing to skate like the wind and attempting to attack the middle of the ice. Give credit where it’s due as both defensive brigades tightened up and eliminated the easy scoring chances in the second half of the second period.
Unfortunately, the Leafs were able to create just enough to take the lead with 2:25 to play. It was once again from a point shot as this time a well-covered Auston Matthews was able to deflect home said point shot from Jake Muzzin to fool both Joel Edmundson and Allen.
The Habs once again kicked off the third period with a deficit. This time, it was Toronto who came out flying and it caused Petry to take a holding penalty in the opening minute. Allen was once again huge after his teammates made a few soft plays in failing to clear the defensive zone on the penalty kill.
The Leafs continued to pressure the Habs and got away with a few very obvious penalties. Sure enough, Nylander was finally called on a lesser infraction at the six-minute mark. Unfortunately, it was likely Montreal’s worst effort on the man advantage in the game so they didn’t come close to scoring.
The final ten minutes saw the Leafs really fall back. Even on the shift where they did control the puck in the offensive zone, they were safe and didn’t attack the middle of the ice much. They were also quite effective at keeping the Canadiens out of the middle of the ice. Campbell came up with a few big stops, all of which were quite unorthodox, so much so that I question his longevity at his current pace of play. He made one of those stops against Anderson and another against Chiarot. They were excellent saves, but strange technique being used.
Finally, in the final minute of the contest, Suzuki with another magical pass found Phillip Danault who tucked it home to send the game to overtime.
The overtime was full of action as the Habs missed some good chances with Toffoli failing to score on a breakaway; the Leafs did too. Finally, a 2-on-0 for Matthews and Mitch Marner looked to seal the deal but they whiffed on the chance. As is usually the case, the play came down to the other end where Evans and Petry cycled the puck long enough for Petry to find Caufield in the high slot. Caufield used Armia who had come on for Evans as a screen to rifle home his second consecutive overtime winner… ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! WOW! What an ending!
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Jake Allen
This team is not a playoff one without Allen this season. He’s been a gigantic addition and if I’m being entirely honest, I’m no longer certain who I have in the blue paint if the playoffs start tomorrow. He’s been that good this season. I’m not suggesting he’s the long-term option, just that he’s having an unreal season and he should be praised for it. This game was no exception.
Stats: 27 saves, 29 shots, .931 save %, 1.89 GAA, 63:32 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Tyler Toffoli
Toffoli continues his magical season as he nears 30 goals in a shortened season. Easily the best UFA signing of the offseason, easily the best bargain contract in the entire league, Toffoli continues to be the sniper of excellence for the Habs.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 2 shots, 2 hits, 17:01 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Cole Caufield
I can’t remember the last time I saw a player arrive and be this dangerous offensively on almost every shift he touches the puck. At some point, it’s going to happen, Caufield will make a defensive mistake that will cost the team some points. The first analyst to suggest he needs to learn the 200-foot game gets a throat punch, agreed? Pure scorer, let him be the pure scorer and accept what comes with it. That’s not saying he won’t work on it, but it’s not where the focus needs to be, EVER.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 2 shots, 12:17 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jeff Petry
Suzuki would have also been a fine choice here on this night (three assists) and so would Ben Chiarot who has returned to last season levels since the Weber injury. What I’m going to do instead is take a moment to praise Jeff Petry. Petry, who had a Norris-calibre first half of the season before seeing his play fall off a cliff, has really picked it up this last year and has returned to the level of play that brought the Habs to the top of the division at the start of the season. He’s not always effective defensively, but my, oh, my does this team need him at his offensive best to have a chance on a nightly basis. He was great again in this one.
Stats: 3 assists, +1, 1 shot, 27:11 T.O.I.