The Montreal Canadiens found themselves in their most important game of the season in a classic Saturday night matchup against Toronto. Going into the game, the Habs sat six points behind Toronto for the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, so this was your proverbial four-point game.
A very tight first two periods of play resulted in a scoreless tie after forty minutes. Toronto then took the lead a minute into the third, but the Habs didn’t allow a shot through the rest of regulation time. Marco Scandella tied the game late, then Ilya Kovalchuk sent the Bell Centre crowd home happy with the OT winner.
The Canadiens finally got some relief from the flu bug, and all the ill players were available to play. It was indicated after the optional morning skate that Jonathan Drouin would be a game-time decision, after missing just over twelve weeks of action. After taking the warmup, Drouin was good to go and was slotted on the third line with Max Domi and Artturi Lehkonen. Xavier Ouellet took the place of Christian Folin on defence. Carey Price got the start for the critical matchup.
There was a great, energized crowd at the Bell Centre and that appeared to inject some energy in both teams. The game started at a torrid pace early on. Tomas Tatar had a great chance early in the game when a Toronto defenceman put the puck right on his stick in the slot, but he fired it wide.
Things tightened up as the first period went on and neither team gave the other any room to work with. Both teams understood the importance of the game and a very conservative style of play was established. The first period ended in a scoreless tie, with the shots also tied at seven apiece.
Two minutes into the second period, Drouin was called for slashing. Toronto had two chances early, but once the puck was cleared, the Habs forwards took turns forechecking the offensive zone and Toronto never got back on offence. It wasn’t all good for the penalty kill though, as Artturi Lehkonen blocked a shot off the inside of his hand and had to leave.
Ten minutes into the period, Joel Armia was tripped at centre ice, and the Habs got their first shot on the power play. The Canadiens tried to be too fancy with the man advantage and didn’t get the puck towards the net. There was a long period without a whistle after the advantage, during which Brendan Gallagher was set up with an open net but the puck skipped away.
With five minutes left in the period, Victor Mete’s clearing attempt got up too high and went out of play. With Lehkonen still out, Jake Evans was called upon for some key penalty killing minutes. He, along with his teammates, put together another strong kill to keep a clean scoresheet. With just over a minute left in the period, Lehkonen did return to the bench.
Toronto did hold a 21-11 shot advantage after forty minutes, but that figure wasn’t really indicative of how the period went. Neither team managed to generate many dangerous chances, if any, in the second period. With Toronto having played on Friday night, the Habs knew that they had to take advantage in the final frame.
One minute into the third period, the Nick Suzuki line had a chance. The shot was stopped and the puck went the other way where John Tavares shot the puck by Price for the game’s first goal.
The Canadiens turned it up a bit after allowing the goal and started to establish more pressure in the offensive zone. Every shift the Habs pushed and pushed to find the equalizer.
With eight minutes to go, the Habs got their second man advantage with a Toronto bench minor for too many men. Ilya Kovalchuk had a good chance early on a one-timer, but it was stopped by the toe of Jack Campbell. With five minutes left in the period, the clock showed that Toronto only had one shot on goal in the third. The problem was that the one shot had gone in.
With three minutes left to go, the Habs finally broke through. Marco Scandella’s point shot found its way through the screens and went through Campbell. The crowd erupted as the Habs had finally tied the game!
In the last seconds, Kovalchuk’s one-timer just missed the net, but each team picked up one point, and overtime was needed. The Canadiens outshot Toronto 16-1 in the third period, but the score was just 1-1.
The overtime was played back and forth at a break-neck pace, with both teams having chances to win it. 1:43 into the extra frame Price made a blocker save and intentionally pushed the puck all the way out to centre. Suzuki picked it up and was in alone but was poke-checked. Kovalchuk was crashing the net and buried the rebound to clinch the most important win of the Canadiens’ season so far. Habs win!
HabsWorld Habs Three Stars
First Star – Phillip Danault
Danault was used by Claude Julien for important matchups by Claude Julien all night long. Every time the top line of Toronto went out Danault hopped over the boards too. He neutralized their top line and was actually able to generate offence for his own linemates as well. Danault was a massive part of the Canadiens’ win.
Stats: 1 SOG, 2 hits, 21:50 TOI
Second Star – Marco Scandella
Scandella was also a big part of the Habs great defensive effort. On the tying goal late in regulation, he started it with a great pinch that generated a chance. He then got back to the point and fired home the shot that sent the game to overtime.
Stats: 1G, +1, 2 SOG, 15:07 TOI
Third Star – Carey Price
Although he didn’t make a save in the third period, Price was the Habs’ best player in the second period and a lot of the first too. He was a big reason that the game was tied going into the third. He also showed unbelievable hockey sense in overtime to punch that puck all the way out to Suzuki at centre ice.
Stats: win, 22 saves, 1 goal against
Honourable Mention- Ilya Kovalchuk
Kovalchuk came through when the Habs needed him most. His goal in overtime gave Montreal a massive win and vaulted them back into the playoff conversation. In his time in Montreal, he now has two overtime goals and two shootout goals.
Stats: 1G (GWG), 6 SOG, 1 hit, 21:22 TOI