The Montreal Canadiens are back on the inside of the Eastern Conference playoff race after their second consecutive rout of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Toronto Maple Leafs on the other hand saw their playoff hopes dashed again as they fell to twelfth place in the Conference and now seven points out of the playoffs with just twelve games remaining.
Last night the Toronto Maple Leafs were clearly the dominant team in the opening five minutes, the Maple Leaf fore-checkers kept the Canadiens defenseman on their heals during countless cycle attacks. While pressuring the Canadiens Todd Simpson was caught holding a Leafs forward sending the Maple Leafs third ranked power play to work. A minute and eighteen seconds into the power play Jason Allison sent a gorgeous pass to Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin, Sundin one-timed the puck past Huet to give the Maple Leafs the early 1-0 lead. Montreal earned the next man advantage when Jeff O’Neill collided with Todd Simpson at the Canadiens blue line, Clarke Wilm would proceed to take a slashing penalty providing the Canadiens with a two-man advantage. Just six seconds after O’Neill exited the penalty box Michael Ryder potted his career best 26th goal of the season.
With some aggressive fore-checking Canadiens fourth liner Aaron Downey caused Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle to cough up the puck to Steve Begin. Begin sent a backhand pass to line mate Radek Bonk. Bonk wound up and ripped his slap shot five hole on Leafs net minder Mikael Tellqvist to provide the Canadiens with their first lead of the hockey game. With time dwindling down in the first period Steve Begin and Radek Bonk broke down the ice on a 2 on 2 rush, Begins shot was stopped but Tellqvist left a juicy rebound in the blue ice, and as time appeared to stand still Radek Bonk fought off the stick check of Nik Antropov and back handed the puck into the yawning cage with only eight seconds remaining in the opening period.
With the momentum of Bonk’s late first period goal the Canadiens came out flying in the second period, controlling much of the play. While enjoying their fourth power play of the evening the Canadiens were able to score again. Saku Koivu slid the puck to Chris Higgins who was camped out to Tellqvist’s left. Higgins was thwarted in his attempt to jam the puck into the net but Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov swooped in and pushed the puck passed the goal line. The Leafs penalty killers questioned the goal but the video review in Toronto concluded the puck clearly completely crossed the red line. Michael Ryder would add his second power play goal of the evening after deflecting Mathieu Dandenault point shot.
Mats Sundin added his second of the game only seventeen seconds into the third period when Bryan McCabe’s shot missed wide and caromed off the glass behind Cristobal Huet. Sundin batted the puck off Huet and into the net. Although Sundin’s goal was a little too late it did spark the Leafs into controlling much of the third period.
However once the Leafs had given up on attempting a comeback the game turned rough. It was away from the play when Sundin and Craig Rivet were caught cross checking each other deep in the Canadiens zone. That incident was followed by a line brawl of sorts, which saw Darcy Tucker attack Mike Ribeiro fortunately for Ribero Richard Zednik hog tied Tucker preventing him from throwing any punches. Luke Richardson paired off with Aaron Downey, Jason Allison and Mathieu Dandenault went toe to toe and Tie Domi jumped Todd Simpson.
The Canadiens would add one more goal when Garth Murray gathered his own rebound lifted his backhand shot over Tellqvist. Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov picked up assists on the goal.
With slightly more than two minutes remaining in the game things escalated again when in Alex Kovalev carried the puck into the Leafs zone, Darcy Tucker attempted to check Kovalev but instead was steamrolled and caught Kovalev’s forearm to his face. Tucker got to his feet and attacked Kovalev with two quick jabs; a five on five scrum ensued. Kovalev picked up twenty minutes in penalties, which included a five-minute major for elbowing.
Alex Kovalev told the media after the game that his elbow was in response to an attempted elbow that Tucker was unable to connect with earlier in the game. Bob Gainey supported Kovalev’s decision to protect himself. The Montreal Canadiens will now cross their fingers that Colin Campbell does not suspend Alex Kovalev.
1. Radek Bonk
2. Cristobal Huet
3. Andrei Markov
1. Andrei Markov picked up four points for the Canadiens recording 1 goal and 3 assists this is the second time this season he has accomplished the feat.
2. Mats Sundin’s second goal marked the first time the Leafs had scored an even strength goal in 377 minutes and 38 seconds.
3. Radek Bonk’s doubled his goal out put for the season in just a single period as he now has 4 on the season.
4. For a second straight night Cristobal Huet was awarded and assist that was later awarded to someone else. Last night Richard Zednik stole his thunder and tonight when it was discovered that Mathieu Dandenault’s point shot was deflected by Michael Ryder Huet’s assist was lost to Chris Higgins.