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It was the Canadiens’ final Saturday game this season, as they arrived at the Air Canada Centre to visit Toronto in a game that had little meaning for the Maple Leafs and not much more for the Habs. The Leafs’ playoff berth had been reserved and confirmed, and the question for the Canadiens is only whether they get the fifth- or sixth-best odds for the 2023 Entry Draft lottery.

So, the Leafs chose to rest their top defence pairing of T.J. Brodie and Morgan Rielly, while Corey Schueneman and Cayden Primeau arrived from the Laval Rocket to help out the battered bleu, blanc, et rouge. Both coaches did care enough to start their top goaltenders, Ilya Samsonov for Sheldon Keefe and Samuel Montembeault for Martin St. Louis, although Toronto dressed emergency backup goaltender Jett Alexander as Samsonov’s backup.

By the midway point of the first period, it was pretty clear who was going to leave with the two points tonight, and it got worse from there – bad enough that Samsonov could step aside for Alexander near the end. But at least the lottery odds improved …

One in the first …

The play had barely got underway when Jake Evans was sent off for two minutes for hooking Mitch Marner at 1:34. The Habs’ penalty killers were aggressive, though, and did not let the Toronto shooters get close to Montembeault’s net. The Leafs’ power play unit did manage to record two shots, but those were just after Evans jumped back onto the ice.

Four minutes after the penalty expired, Brendan Gallagher and Jonathan Drouin combined for a scoring chance, but were foiled by Mark Giordano.

Just before the nine-minute mark, William Nylander broke in, but Montembeault got his pad out to bar the door. As Nylander carried the rebound behind the net, though, he was hit in the face by Justin Barron’s high stick, and so Toronto got their second power play opportunity of the period.

It took only 19 seconds for the Maple Leafs to exact the price for the high stick: as Joel Edmundson was focused on holding off a rushing Auston Matthews, the Leafs’ elite centre got the puck to a trailing Mitch Marner only a few strides away from the blue ice. Edmundson was caught off-guard and Marner was able to lift the puck into the top right corner to open the scoring.

Notably, at 11:01 Edmundson, recorded a shot on goal, on a slap shot from the blue line. This would, in fact, be the only time the Canadiens were able to put the puck on net in the first period.

The best scoring opportunity came 45 seconds later, though, as Mike Hoffman and Rem Pitlick broke into the Toronto zone. Hoffman made a tidy pass from the left side, but Pitlick’s one-timer from the slot went wide of Samsonov’s goal.

It was back to all Leafs after that, though, as they took six shot attempts in the span of a little over a minute, but Montembeault turned away the three that reached him.

But then Wayne Simmonds, backing up in front of the net, ran into the stick of Chris Wideman, sending the Habs’ defenceman off for tripping. The penalty killing unit was aggressive again and kept the Maple Leafs away from the Canadiens’ zone for the first 30 seconds or so, but at 15:16 Marner, on the right-side boards, made a tidy saucer pass to John Tavares, who was open just to the left of Montembeault. A quick wrist shot, and it was 2-0 Toronto.

After the faceoff, Simmonds challenged Michael Pezzetta into a fight, and the gloves flew onto the ice. Neither one got much of a punch in, but arguably Simmonds won on points as he wrestled Pezzetta onto the ice.

The Leafs were finally penalized at 17:53, for too many men on the ice, and Michael Bunting headed for the sin bin to serve the team penalty. Montreal’s power play was no better than in the previous ten or so games, and the best scoring chance was from a pass by Zach Aston-Reese, who nearly found Nylander streaking in all alone in front of Montembeault.

And then, as Bunting jumped back onto the ice, he beat out Justin Barron and reached Montembeault without a defenceman on him. He was very close to Montembeault, though, and the Habs’ young goaltender was able to block Bunting’s shot once, then twice, and finally a third time.

That long Edmundson shot saved the Habs from being shut out on that count, too, as the Leafs outshot them 18-1, with the high-danger scoring chances at an equally grim 8-0.

One for us, two for them

Mike Matheson started the period doing what he does best, carrying the puck into the Toronto zone, and protecting it as he rounded the net. He spotted Johnathan Kovacevic at the top of the right-side faceoff circle and sent him the puck. Kovacevic saw the heavy traffic in front of Samsonov and drifted to the left, finally taking a shot from the left-side circle.

The puck found its way through traffic and then glanced off Marner’s skate, beating a surprised Samsonov high on the glove side to narrow the gap to 2-1 at 2:28.

That did not last long, though, as about 90 seconds later Montembeault’s clearing shot along the boards was stopped by Ryan O’Reilly. He sent off a long seeing-eye pass across the front of the net, which found Nylander’s stick and deflected over Montembeault’s shoulder and just below the crossbar.

Suzuki did get another chance on Samsonov, but the Leafs’ goalie made a highlight reel save to keep the puck out of the net. And Kovacevic had a chance at a second marker a little over two minutes from the end, but Samsonov was ready for it.

Luke Schenn was called for interference on Rafael Harvey-Pinard at 17:56, and this time the Habs’ power play unit actually generated some action. Brendan Gallagher had two shot attempts, and Hoffman and Matheson also sent pucks toward the net. Nothing to show for the shot attempts, though, and Toronto also had a shorthanded chance at the end of the penalty.

The shots were much closer at 16-14, but the high-danger chances were still a well-tilted 6-2 in favour of the Maple Leafs.

Do we really need one more period?

O’Reilly was called for high-sticking Edmundson at 1:00, giving the Canadiens another chance at a man advantage, and this time it looked a little better. Suzuki had a chance at a loose puck, but his shot was blocked by Noel Acciari. Maybe another dozen or so power play chances, we might yet see some Habs goals.

Five minutes into the period, Chris Tierney had a chance in the slot but Samsonov made another pretty glove save.

Some thirty seconds later, Timothy Liljegren had a chance at Montembeault from the right circle but the Habs goalie blocked the shot. To no avail, though, as Harvey-Pinard was called for tripping Simmonds just a few seconds later.

The Toronto power play showed its capabilities again, as the Habs were unable to clear the zone. To make things worse, Matheson knocked down O’Reilly in front of the net, and Matheson slid onto the blue ice and into Montembeault, who lost his stick. Tavares picked up the puck in front of the net and shot it past a helpless Montembeault.

St. Louis challenged the goal on the basis of goaltender interference, but the challenge was rejected as Matheson had pushed O’Reilly in. So, another two minutes on the power play, with Denis Gurianov in the box, but this time the Leafs were kept off the scoresheet.

Matthews broke in all alone once again at the eleven-minute mark, but Montembeault had his positioning right, and the best Matthews could do was to shoot at his shoulder.

But Matthews was not done yet, and at 13:51, he broke into the zone, slipped past both Barron and Tierney, and shot the puck into the top right corner, shooting from just left of the blue ice. 6-1 Toronto, then an even two goals for the home team in each of the periods.

Suzuki, too, was called for a penalty, the Leafs’ sixth opportunity of the evening on a power play, at 14:59. And, as it was tonight, they scored on this one, too, as Bunting tipped in a shot by Matthews to make the final score a rather embarrassing 7-1.

With the game well out of reach and only 1:10 remaining, Samsonov skated to the bench and handed the reins over to Alexander, giving the University of Toronto goaltender the opportunity of a lifetime to make an NHL appearance. The Habs didn’t manage to test him, though, so he recorded no shots and no saves.

The third-period shots were 12-6 for the Leafs, with high-danger shots 5-1. Overall, the total shots were 46-21, which rather flatters the Habs, as the high-danger chances were 23-3 for the Leafs.

HW Habs Three Stars

First Star: Johnathan Kovacevic (1g, 0a, 2 shots, 22:36 TOI) played an outstanding game, further cementing his claim on a roster spot for next season. A goal, a good scoring chance, excellent penalty-killing, and a solid 22 minutes on the ice.

Second Star: Nick Suzuki (0g, 1a, 2 shots, 18:02 TOI) didn’t have a spectacular game, but playing with Harvey-Pinard and Joel Armia isn’t quite the same thing as teaming up with Cole Caufield and Kirby Dach. Nevertheless, Suzuki was one of the best players on the ice and was on the ice for only a single Toronto power-play goal.

Third Star: Chris Tierney (0g, 0a, 2 shots, 13:56 TOI) had little expected of him as he arrived to reinforce the injury-riddled Habs. But 3:40 of penalty-kill time with not a goal allowed, and a solid 50% in the faceoff circle were a bright spot on an otherwise grim night.

Honourable Mention: Samuel Montembeault (46 shots, 39 saves, 0.848 save percentage) did not – and could not – steal this game for the Habs. But in spite of the constant barrage of 46 shots and 23 high-danger chances, he kept them within reach into the third period. Seven goals was worse than the xGA of 5.14, but on a night like this, it could have been much worse yet.