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The headlines before Saturday’s game seemed to be all about Auston Matthews aiming for “50 in 50” rather than the Habs’ lead in the season series. Maybe that should have been expected, though.

Alas, it was indeed Matthews that starred in this one, his two goals being the difference — and then some — on the night. For the Habs, their goalies kept the game close, but Jake Allen had to leave the game with a suspected groin injury.

Leafs Scoring First? Is That a Good Idea?

Joel Armia, Christian Dvorak, and Brendan Gallagher got the start against the Matthews line, to keep the lid on the Leafs superstar’s scoring. While there was no early goal, the game was a blur of black and white early, as Toronto hunted for scoring chances in the Habs’ zone.

It would be the checking line with the first chance for the Canadiens, as Gallagher moved the puck handily out of the defensive zone. Armia and Dvorak streaked in on a two-on-one, but Erik Kallgren took away the angle and handled Armia’s shot cleanly.

The Leafs were right back after that, with Matthews and William Nylander recording a sequence of three shots on Allen, and this was indeed the pattern, with the Habs only able to make occasional counterattacks.

Matthews had another scoring opportunity at the eight-minute mark but ended up sliding on the ice toward the net, and Allen easily handled his backhander.

At the halfway point the Habs had only recorded four shot attempts — not shots, attempts — to 15 for the Maple Leafs, and the territorial advantage was even starker.

That pressure was bound to produce results, and at 13:32 it did. Allen stretched out his left pad to make a save on a Mark Giordano wrister, but gave up a soft rebound. Matthews slipped past Nick Suzuki and arrived in front of the net but a second after the initial shot and lifted the puck over the sprawling Allen’s leg pad to give the initial lead to the Leafs.

Worse yet, Allen appeared to sprain his groin on the play and headed for the dressing room immediately after. That handed the baton to Samuel Montembeault, without a warm-up, of course.

With the Allen injury delay and the last change, Toronto was able to put the Matthews line back on the ice, with the hope of taking advantage of a backup goalie before he had a chance to get into the game. The Habs, on the other hand, were now committed to their fourth line, with Tyler Pitlick, Laurent Dauphin, and Michael Pezzetta.

It took only 32 seconds for Matthews to take a pass from Michael Bunting, and streak in past Pitlick and Chris Wideman to the front of the net. Once there, he beat Montembeault cleanly with a wrist shot on the glove side.

Bunting took the opportunity to chirp Wideman, and the Habs defenceman took exception to that. Wideman responded with a cross-check on Bunting, and by the time the linesmen had disentangled them, the Habs came out with the short straw, Wideman drawing the extra cross-checking penalty plus a ten-minute misconduct.

On the ensuing power play, Nylander had an opening but shot at the right goalpost. He followed with a second shot, saved by Montembeault, but then Suzuki and Rem Pitlick broke out in a short-handed two-on-one rush. Morgan Rielly blocked the pass, and Kallgren covered the angle on Suzuki’s short-side shot. Suzuki got two more whacks at the puck as the rebound fell in front of Kallgren but could not tuck it under the Leafs goalie.

The final shots for the period were 18-8 in Toronto’s favour, with the high-danger scoring chances favouring them 5-2 as well.

The Habs Get a Second Chance

Early in the second, Pezzetta was called for holding Colin Blackwell behind the Montreal net, giving the Maple Leafs another power play opportunity. The high-power power play unit wasted no time in applying pressure. Nylander got the only shot, though, and Montembeault saw it coming and had his trapper ready for the puck.

The Leafs threw away the last 1:13 of the power play, as John Tavares high-sticked Joel Edmundson just as the puck was dropped after Montembeault’s save. Four on four would surely be dangerous with players like Marner and Matthews hungry for more goals.

Four on four, Mitch Marner and Matthews broke in, but Jeff Petry handled Marner with ease, preventing Marner from passing to Matthews or getting to the net himself. Alas, Petry mishandled the clearing pass, and Marner, sitting next to Montembeault’s right post, had a chance to tap it in for a three-goal lead. The Canadiens’ goalie got his pad out, though, stopping any thought of that.

Montembeault had to stop a Nylander breakaway some 30 seconds later, but he did what he needed to do, and kept Nylander’s wrister out of the net.

In the ensuing abbreviated power play, the Habs were able to control the puck in the offensive zone but could only record a single shot, from Petry at the right point.

However, as the man advantage expired, Caufield dove at a Toronto clearing shot, stopping the puck just before it crossed the line, and getting it to Dvorak. A few moves later, Suzuki picked up the puck, curled behind the net, and made a quick pass to the front, where Edmundson was ready and tapped it in at 5:58 for the Habs’ first goal while Suzuki earned himself a bonus with his helper.

It took Toronto little more than two minutes to regain the two-goal edge, though, as John Tavares spun around deep in the Montreal zone, keeping control of the puck, and shot it at the net as he was completing his motion. The puck looked to be going just wide, but hit the skate of Jordan Harris at the side of the net, and bounced into the net at 8:07.

With five minutes remaining in the period, Alexander Romanov shoved Marner on the boards after the whistle, but there was too much wood involved, and he got sent into the box for cross-checking. Once again, though, the Leafs squandered half the power play, this with Rielly tripping Suzuki just outside the Habs’ blue line.

Matthews had yet another break into the Montreal zone, but Petry manhandled him, and Matthews could not get a shot away. The Leafs star did not appreciate the treatment, though, and slammed Petry into the boards shortly thereafter.

The Canadiens’ power play could not get a shot on net again but maintained control as the penalty expired. And four seconds later, at 18:03, Gallagher, in the right corner got the puck to Caufield in his usual office on the right side of the net. Caufield took the pass on his backhand, but quickly flipped it over, and wired a wrist shot over Kallgren’s glove.

The Habs got their first full power play opportunity with less than a minute remaining, as Gallagher made a pass to Armia on a rush in the Maple Leafs’ zone, and Giordano was called holding the big Finn. There were no shots on net to be seen, though, of course.

The second period shots were in the Habs’ favour, just, by an 11-10 count, but the high-danger chances were still Toronto’s, by 6-3.

Three Power Plays, and How Many Shots?

The Habs started the final period with the remainder of the power play and recorded the remainder of the zero shots that would be expected of a Habs power play in this one. The silver lining was merely the lack of shorthanded Toronto scoring chances.

Romanov appeared to get hurt early on in the period and was very slow to return to the bench, but the young Russian only missed a single shift before returning to the ice.

Gallagher broke in through the Toronto defence for a chance on Kallgren just before the six-minute mark, but could not get a shot away.

Tyler Pitlick was called for tripping Blackwell at 11:01, and then just 16 seconds later, Suzuki slashed John Tavares’ hand to give Toronto a five-on-three advantage for 1:44.

That gave the Leafs the licence to operate a shooting gallery on Montembeault, and that they did. Matthews, Nylander, Rielly: post, post, save, save. A two-man power play is hard to play against at the best of times, and the Habs were badly outmatched here as the Leafs rotated the puck around. But, what they did not do is put it in the net.

With 33 seconds left, Jake Evans was finally able to clear the zone and relieve the pressure.

At 16:14 Matthews had his final breakaway of the evening, skating in alone on Montembeault, but the young goaltender handled the scoring ace with aplomb.

As the minutes ticked away, Anderson laid a heavy shoulder check on Giordano in the offensive zone, surprising the veteran defenceman. On the ensuing play, Pierre Engvall high-sticked Evans. With the Habs controlling the play, the penalty was delayed by almost a minute, until 18:02, giving Montreal a power play for the final two minutes of the game.

The Habs had some trouble Gaining control in the offensive zone but with about a minute remaining in regulation, Montembeault was finally able to skate to the bench.

Alas, the man advantage was as futile as the earlier ones in the game; the closest the Canadiens came to scoring was at 19:10 when Caufield got away a nice shot — but ended up hitting the crest on Kallgren’s sweater.

It was 3-2 final, then, a hard-fought game for the Habs that could have easily gone the other way. Shots in the final period were 12-7 for the Leafs, and the high-danger scoring chances for them by a 5-1 margin.

HW Habs Three Stars

First Star: Cole Caufield (1g, 0a, 4 shots, 20:01 TOI) is undoubtedly the real thing. Dangerous each time with the puck, and also made the key defensive play to keep the puck in the Toronto zone for the first Montreal goal.

Second Star: Christian Dvorak (0g, 1a, 1 shot, 17:52 TOI), along with Armia and Gallagher, did an excellent job of containing the Matthews line throughout the game, and recorded another point in getting the puck to Gallagher for the second goal.

Third Star: Jake Allen (14/15 saves, 0.933) and Samuel Montembeault (23/25, 0.920) played superbly to keep the Canadiens within range. Matthews’ second goal did not look great on Montembeault, but he had barely stepped on the ice at that point, and he more than made up for it subsequently.

Honourable Mention: Jordan Harris (0g, 0a, 1 shot, 13:49 TOI) looked in his element playing next to Petry. He had speed and IQ as he played his only third NHL game. The Matthews goal from his skate was bad luck, and should not detract from another solid rookie game.