Saturday night in Montreal saw a reignited matchup between two of the NHL’s oldest rivals when the Toronto Maple Leafs travelled to “La Belle Province” to take on the Montreal Canadiens
Toronto was coming off a few days after taking down the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday, during their annual “Next-Gen Game”
While the Habs were looking to rebound after a tough loss to the Atlantic division leading Florida Panthers on Thursday
While Montreal’s playoff chances are slim to none as they remain rooted to one of the last places in the league, they have significantly improved their style of play under new head coach Martin St. Louis (stat about habs record)
The Atlantic Division playoff race has heated up significantly in the past month with the top four teams (Florida, Toronto, Tampa and Boston) all separated by a couple of wins
While it’s very unlikely that any of these teams drop out of playoff contention, the last month of the season will decide which team will play each other and who will get home-ice advantage.
Maple Leafs Superstar Auston Matthews surely had a view of the standings before the game as only 36 seconds into contest, the star forward wired home his league leading 47th goal of the season giving the Leafs the early advantage.
Following a commendable outing by Petr Mrazek against the Devils, young Leafs goaltender Erik Källgren would return to the crease for the Leafs for the first time in a week since the Leafs were showed up 6-3 in Nashville.
With the Leafs opening up a back to back on Saturday, Källgren’s start on Saturday likely means that Mrazek would feature in the Leaf net on Sunday against the Panthers
While the first period only saw the Leafs get on the board it was far from uneventful as Jake Allen needed to be in top form in order to withstand the pressure Toronto put his way.
After 20 minutes the Leafs the shots favoured the visitors by a 12-3 margin.
The Habs came out for the second period with a point to prove as they started picking up the pace, which was seemingly lacking in the opening frame.
While Toronto maintained their fair share of puck possession for the period, Montreal was able to close the shot totals finishing with a 15-12 Leafs margin.
Montreal only needed to take 12 shots to beat the Leafs twice in the frame.
Just under halfway through the period, Montreal found themselves with numbers in the Leafs zone when Laurent Dauphin sent a cross ice pass to a streaking David Savard, who had jumped up from the Habs blue line to tuck a shot past the rookie goaltender to tie the game at one.
One thing of note on this play was the lack of awareness and effort that Leafs star winger William Nylander had on display losing his man in Savard and seemingly allowing him on net for a clean chance.
Montreal would strike again late in the period after Justin Holl was sent to the box for an interference call.
On the ensuing Habs power play Cole Caufield would wire a shot past Kallgren for his 14th goal of the season, and 13th under St. Louis who was hired in early February.
Nylander would even the game up early in the third period as the Leafs would convert on their second of three penalties in the final frame.
With 24th goal of the season, and only point on the night, Nylander needs just two more points to reach his previous career high of 61 set in both 2016-17 and 2017-18.
Many Leaf fans were up in arms late in the final minutes of the period when it appeared that Habs forward Paul Byron clipped the skates of Auston Matthews and in turn leading the Habs on a 3 on 1 play in which he would fire home only his fourth goal of the season, and the go-ahead goal.
The Bell Centre erupted as it seemed as this goal would be the game winner.
Maple Leaf coach Sheldon Keefe raised the pressure from the Leafs in the final minutes but they were unable to find a way through Allen as Christian Dvorak slotted home an empty netter and iced the Leafs on the night.
Allen would receive first star honours as he was instrumental in the Habs win, setting aside 49 of 51 shots
With the Leaf loss and both of a Bruins and Lightning win sees the Leafs drop from the second in the Atlantic division down to the first wildcard spot, just one point ahead of the Capitals but with three games in hand.
As mentioned above the Leafs will have another pivotal match on Sunday evening as they take on the Florida Panthers for the first time since the COVID-19 lockdown in a battle of two of the highest octane offences in the NHL.
Montreal will look to build on their win as they also play Sunday night when they head to New Jersey to take on the Devils.