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Maple Leafs respond strong with 5-1 win to even series

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A well-deserved win for the captain

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

First Period

The first four minutes are pretty tepid, but the new look Leafs second line generates a couple strong chances off a rebound that they are unable to put away. As it goes the other way, the Habs nearly get a chance of their own, but a good defensive play from William Nylander erases it.

Auston Matthews nearly gets a goal off a rebound in front after a TJ Brodie point shot, but once again, Carey Price saves it.

But as it was in Game 1, the Habs get the lead. This time, it happens about 8 minutes in. The Canadiens establish a cycle and after a point shot results total Leafs disorganisation and Jack Campbell swimming, Jesperi Kotkaniemi pots it in. This was preceded by Muzzin overskating the puck in the offensive zone and losing possession, and a strong Habs forecheck (which is their strength offensively). 1-0 Canadiens.

The Leafs answer back in a hurry though! As he’s done so often through the year, Jason Spezza provides offense from the depth lines. A strong shift from the Alex Kerfoot led forward group establishes a cycle, and gets some fortuitous luck as a rim around from Arturri Lehkonen hits the ref. Zach Bogosian centres to an oncoming Spezza who manages to beat Price to tie the game, 1-1 tie.

Bogosian deserves some credit for that goal, and he makes another good offensive play, gaining the zone and shoveling it towards the net for Ilya Mikheyev to tip. It’s a Mikheyev shot, so I don’t really need to mention the outcome. The next shift, Joe Thornton blows a tire in the defensive zone, leading to a Habs point shot which gets deflected on the way in, and sits there juicily for Lehkonen. Campbell covers up quickly enough to avoid major issues.

With about 3:30 to go, Zach Hyman takes a holding penalty as he’s overzealous in trying to retrieve a loose puck and impedes Phillip Danault. The Habs power play is as toothless as ever (and I feel we’re quite qualified to say that as Leafs fans with how bad ours has been).

The rest of the period passes without incident. As most of game 1, this was very even. Without John Tavares, the talent differential between these teams is quite minimal, so the Leafs are going to have to win quite a few 50/50 games. It seems this game will likely have to be one of them.

Second Period

Montreal is getting their fair share of rush chances. Tomas Tatar makes a nice pass to Brendan Gallagher on a 3-on-2 to set the latter up for one, but Gallagher’s shot is wide. You don’t want to give him that many of those opportunities.

About 5 minutes in, Auston Matthews arrives in the series! He’s been good in general, to be fair to him and was buzzing in Game 1, but he finally gets his goal. Matthews gains the zone on a rush with Justin Holl activating and flanking him. Holl smartly shoots for the rebound and Matthews pokes it home to make it 2-1 Leafs. Big, big goal.

Shortly thereafter, Gallagher takes a high-sticking penalty, and the Leafs have the chance to extend the lead further. The Leafs power play is pretty decent - solid entries and chances, especially from the second unit, but no goals. As the power play expires, a scramble in front leads Lehkonen to take another slashing penalty, so the Leafs get a second chance. Unfortunately, this PP is much the same. Quite a few chances, but no goals.

Not more than two minutes later, Kotkaniemi cross-checks Rielly. The Leafs need to make one of these power plays stick, because the refs are going to be hesitant to keep up such a one-sided penalty differential as the game progresses. As it turns out, they do it! The third power play was the least threatening of the three so far in terms of chances, but they finally get the zone and Rasmus Sandin walks into a one-timer which gets by Price. Big, big, big goal. 3-1 Leafs.

Montreal is challenging for goalie interference. I pride myself on being a pretty fair person when it comes to ref decision making. But if this comes back, it will be an absolute travesty. There is NO goaltending interference here, at all. The review is taking a bizarrely long time, however. And I get less and less confident each minute.

Sanity prevails. Good goal. Leafs go to the power play again, but this one ends up being the weakest of the lot.

With three minutes to go, Tomas Tatar gets a great chance off the rush (great pass by Jeff Petry to find him), but he fortunately misses the net. That was a great chance that goes wasted.

A few shifts later, Morgan Rielly, Pierre Engvall, and Mikheyev find themselves on a 3-on-2. Rielly finds Engvall in the slot, whose shot is well saved by Price.

Overall, this was a much stronger second period from the Leafs, who apparently took my claim of this being relatively close in talent without Tavares very personally. Now, they need to close it out strong.

Third Period

Montreal goes to the line blender early in the third. This is to be expected. With a fairly flat talent distribution, it’s one of their main strategies to mix things up in game. Looks like Corey Perry will be playing up in the lineup for this period. Otherwise, it’s a very quiet first six minutes of the period, which suits the Leafs just fine.

The Leafs have gotten some important contributions from the depth, and Pierre Engvall has a great shift to continue that. He gets in on the forecheck, wins the puck back and ultimately draws a cross-checking penalty from Shea Weber. Leafs to the power play again.

That’s a huge play, and it is rewarded with a goal! After a Matthews one-timer goes off the post, it re-directs perfectly to Nylander, who picks his spot in the top corner. 4-1 Leafs.

By the way, Jesperi, how many goals has Carey Price let in today?

Got it, thanks!

It really can’t be overstated how important the depth players have been today. Not only Spezza with the goal, but guys like Engvall, Simmonds, and Kerfoot have stepped up, which is hugely important given that Montreal views their depth as their relative strength compared to the Leafs.

With about 6.5 minutes to go, the Habs pull Price when in the offensive zone and go for the extended 6v5. Probably smart of them (if anything, they should probably have done it immediately after the 4-1 goal).

The Leafs hilariously miss the empty net at least 5 times, but it doesn’t appear it will come back to bite them, as Montreal’s players have justifiably given up on this game.

The game ends 5-1 as Alex Kerfoot caps off a good game with the ENG. Goes without saying, but this is a giant win, and a well deserved one that I’m sure the team is dedicating to John Tavares. Hopefully the next three games look pretty similar from a Leafs perspective.