The Habs returned home to host the Leafs in Game 3 of the series after earning a split in Toronto. The switch to having the last change allowed Dominique Ducharme to alter his lineup and insert Cole Caufield who lined up with Nick Suzuki and Joel Armia. For some reason, he did not opt to insert Alexander Romanov which I think was a mistake as Jon Merrill brings so little to the table. After announcing that Tomas Tatar was going to be the healthy scratch, Eric Staal had to opt out due to injury which meant the Habs fourth line was Tatar with Corey Perry and Paul Byron at centre. The Habs opted for an ultra defensive group with Artturi Lehkonen playing with Phillip Danault and Josh Anderson that was glued to the Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot pairing. Jack Campbell and Carey Price remained in their creases.
In all honesty, the creation of the defensive line cost the Habs the game. The coaching staff coached themselves out of a chance to win. Every time the Suzuki line created momentum, the Danault line would come on and play so defensively that the Leafs would regain momentum. In the end, this game looked like the second game where the Habs were not fast enough and nowhere near physical enough to create a doubt in the minds of the Leafs who won with a 2-1 score.
Toronto came out strong as Price made a save or two in the opening minute only to see their momentum get squashed by an Alex Galchenyuk high-stick to Brendan Gallagher that meant an early four-minute man advantage. The first unit was a farce and created nothing, while Caufield hit the cross-bar on his first shift of the game. It was a wasted opportunity early for the Habs.
The Leafs were the faster team at 5-on-5, but the over-usage of the team’s veterans had much to do with that happening consistently over the course of this game. With 13:30 to play, Tyler Toffoli found Gallagher on a 2-on-1 but Campbell made a nice save. Campbell was there once again on the next shift when Corey Perry tipped home a point shot but was turned aside. Just before the period’s median, Artturi Lehkonen cleared the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty.
The Leafs made some nice passes, but Price absolutely robbed Jason Spezza with a diving paddle save that is likely the save of the year in the entire NHL. After the Habs killed the penalty, Zach Hyman and Lehkonen collided with Hyman accidentally elbowing Lehkonen in the head. Lehkonen would leave the game and not return.
The teams would exchange one more power play apiece as Perry drew a cross-checking penalty from Tyler Holl before Toffoli would get called for an after the whistle hit on a delayed offside. Both penalty kills came up big to end the period where the Leafs were once again the better team.
Montreal came out with a bit more jump in the second as they got a few shots early. The Leafs pushed back but Price remained the difference. Then came the call that happens every game against the Toronto that just changes the momentum and is completely unwarranted.
Wayne Simmonds was heading to the net and engaged Perry even though the puck was nowhere near the players. Perry was surprised by the play and fell with his stick hitting Simmonds in the face in the process. Perry was sent to the box. I’m not advocating a penalty against Simmonds on the play. It’s a play that happens 50 times a game. But calling the outcome of a blatant interference on Perry is complete nonsense. Perry didn’t even serve the penalty right away because he was shaken up and retreated to the locker room on a play where he got a penalty. The power play didn’t score but on the shift after, William Nylander scored through a crowd to make it 1-0 Toronto.
The Leafs were all over the Habs from the twelve-minute mark until there was seven minutes left to play in the period. Suzuki-Caufield were the ones to once again turn the momentum, only this time Price came to the bench during the TV timeout and said something after the kid’s great shift.
With six minutes to go, Joel Armia won a board battle to Perry who sent Suzuki off to the races. Suzuki chose low-blocker and fooled Campbell to even the score.
Three minutes later, the Leafs would regain the lead. A give-and-go between Morgan Rielly and Mitch Marner caught Toffoli turning on the wrong side and allowed Rielly to skate in and roof one over Price.
Minutes later, Perry got a good chance which showed Campbell rather shaky on the play. With one minute left in the period, Price made a save and Ben Chiarot bear-hugged Hyman (a play that happened about 15 times in reverse in the third without ever being called – and it shouldn’t). Auston Matthews took exception and jumped Chiarot which started a melee. Somehow, the Habs ended up with the extra penalty for Chiarot starting the altercation.
The Maple Leafs started the period with a minute of power play time that they didn’t take advantage of as they were clearly in a defence first mode. The Habs attacked as Ducharme finally decided to play the kids more. You know, the same kids (Suzuki and Kotkaniemi over Danault is the main indicator) that carried the team over the Pens last year but couldn’t maintain their roles because the veterans pouted after the season.
Anyways, the Canadiens were playing in the offensive zone for approximately two thirds of the period with Caufield really creating scoring chances on most of his shifts on the ice. Overall, Toronto did a decent job of protecting the middle, but as has been the case for most of the regular season, there just simply was not enough dedication to getting to the dirty areas to make things happen. In the final moments, Perry surprised Suzuki with a slick pass in the slot that Suzuki fanned on while Caufield and Kotkaniemi also created chaos in the Toronto crease but it was too little too late as the Leafs escaped with a deserved 2-1 win and lead in the series.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Carey Price
When the team’s main strategy in the game is to give as much ice time as possible to a defensive posture in hopes of hanging on long enough to luck into a goal, there is little doubt that the goaltender will be necessarily be the team’s best player, or else the team is getting blown out of the water. Price has been absolutely spectacular through three games, though it would be nice if the coaching staff helped him out a bit and gave sufficient ice time to players capable of scoring goals.
Stats: 27 saves, 29 shots, .931 save %, 2.07 GAA, 58:05 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Nick Suzuki
The goal scorer on the night was one of the only players willing to get to the dirty areas to make it happen. With John Tavares not in the lineup, Suzuki should be getting more shifts against the Matthews line, but it only ever happens once the Habs have already fallen behind. What a shame.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 3 shots, 2 hits, 20:04 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Cole Caufield
Caufield ends the night without a point, but he hit the crossbar on his first shift and really appeared quite dangerous on most of his shifts. How this team thought it was a good idea to play two games without this player even being dressed is beyond me. Caufield appears to be the latest in Bergevin acquiring the proper player, but his coaching choice having no idea how to deploy the player properly. Seems like a bigger issue than “winning trades but not building a team”.
Stats: 3 shots, 15:50 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jesperi Kotkaniemi
Kotkaniemi was once again a positive in this game for the Habs. He was physical, created a few turnovers, never got caught defensively, and even had a few good offensive shifts. Don’t give him more ice time though because one of management’s favourites is playing for a new contract despite being a complete ghost in this series.
Stats: -1, 1 shot, 2 hits, 15:36 T.O.I.