Hidden Game: Leafs beat Canadiens 3-2 on Hockey Night in Canada stage

Toronto fans at the Bell Centre who were chanting “Go Leafs Go!” before the puck even dropped left the building happy.

Article content

Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada will always be special — and Saturday’s game at the Bell Centre was no exception.

About 10 minutes before puck drop, “Go Leafs Go!” chants started in the upper deck from fans who probably can’t get tickets at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena Country Club — which is notorious for being one of the most quiet arenas in the NHL.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Article content

What’s the best way to silence Toronto fans invading Montreal?

How about a goal by Mike Matheson only 38 seconds into the first period — the fastest goal scored by the Canadiens this season. It was a beautiful tic-tac-toe play from Juraj Slafkovsky to Cole Caufield to Matheson, who beat Leafs goalie Ilya Samsonov with a nice forehand-to-backhand move before falling to the ice.

Advertisement 3

Article content

The goal must have thrilled Matheson’s 2-year-old son Hudson, who got a puck from his dad during the pregame warmup.

Unfortunately for Matheson and his son, the Leafs ended up winning 3-2 and the Toronto fans left the Bell Centre very happy.

Alex Newhook also scored for the Canadiens, while the Leafs got goals from Bobby McMann, Max Domi and John Tavares.

The Canadiens had won their previous five games against the Leafs at the Bell Centre.

Article content

Advertisement 4

Article content

Another quick one: It took the Leafs 39 seconds into the second period to get on the board and tie the score 1-1.

Canadiens defenceman Arber Xhekaj got caught trying to make a play at the offensive blue line that resulted in a two-on-one break for the Leafs. McMann made a good decision when he decided to shoot rather than pass to Matthew Knies and he beat Samuel Montembeault with a low shot.

Advertisement 5

Article content

No luck: Josh Anderson almost put the Canadiens back in front at 1:29 of the second period when he rang a shot off the goalpost. Anderson has one goal in his last 19 games and eight goals this season.

Mad Max: Domi put the Leafs up 2-1 with 1:19 left in the second period, using a burst of speed to split between defencemen Jordan Harris and Jayden Struble before beating Montembeault. It was Domi’s eighth goal of the season.

The Leafs are Domi’s fifth team since he set career highs in goals and points in 2018-19 with the Canadiens, posting 28-44-72 totals. He has since played for Columbus Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars and is now in his first season with the Leafs.

Advertisement 6

Article content

War of words: It would have been interesting to have microphones on Domi and Slafkovsky when they were chirping at each other during a scrum at the end of second period.

Both guys can be pretty funny.

He shoots, he scores! Newhook tied it up 2-2 when he scored his 10th goal of the season on a great shot, banking it in off the post, after taking a nice pass from Slafkovsky. The Canadiens now have six players in double-digits in goals, including Nick Suzuki (25), Caufield (19), Slafkovsky (13), Joel Armia (11) and Brendan Gallagher (10).

Advertisement 7

Article content

The dagger: Tavares scored the winning goal at 13:14 of the third period, fighting off a check from Tanner Pearson to get to a loose puck behind Montembeault and bang it home. In 55 career games against the Canadiens, the Leafs captain has 21-29-50 totals.

Two-goalie system: This was the first game for the Canadiens since trading goalie Jake Allen to the New Jersey Devils on Friday. Montembeault stopped 24 of the 27 shots he faced with Cayden Primeau watching from the bench as his backup. Montembeault’s record fell to 13-12-5 with a 3.14 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage.

Advertisement 8

Article content

Pezz returns! Forward Michael Pezzetta returned to the Canadiens’ lineup after being a healthy scratch for the previous eight games, taking Jesse Ylönen’s spot.

Pezzetta had a game-high eight hits despite having a game-low 6:45 of ice time.

You notice Pezzetta every time he’s on the ice, unlike Ylönen, who has no goals in his last 41 games. Pezzetta has 3-7-10 totals in 45 games while averaging 7:46 of ice time. Ylönen has 3-4-7 totals in 51 games while averaging 10:13 of ice time. Pezzetta leads the Canadiens with 185 hits, while Ylönen has 34 hits.

Defenceman Johnathan Kovacevic was made a healthy scratch for the third straight game.

No fisticuffs: Fans of Rock’Em Sock’Em Hockey who were hoping to see a heavyweight bout between Xhekaj and Ryan Reaves left the Bell Centre disappointed.

While Xhekaj played a regular shift on the Canadiens’ second defence pairing with David Savard, logging 17:45 of ice time with a game-high seven shots, Reaves only had 8:42 of ice time on the Leafs’ fourth line with two shots and zero hits.

Xhekaj made Reaves look bad when they dropped the gloves during the season opener in Toronto, which the Leafs won 6-5 in a shootout.

Advertisement 9

Article content

The Canadiens and Leafs will meet for the third and final time this season on April 6 at the Bell Centre.

Advertisement 10

Article content

Some stats: Matheson (one goal, one assist) and Slafkovsky (two assists) both had two-point nights. Slafkovsky also hit the post on a one-timer off a pass from Matheson in the final minute with Montembeault on the bench for an extra attacker.

Matheson logged a game-high 28:21 of ice time and was all over the ice.

Caufield had four shots, but has now gone 10 games without a goal. Suzuki won 14 of the 20 faceoffs he took (70 per cent), while logging 24:51 of ice time and helping keep Auston Matthews off the scoresheet. Matthews won four of his 14 faceoffs (29 per cent).

Harris and Struble both finished minus-2.

Advertisement 11

Article content

Bragging rights: The Leafs are almost certainly going to play in the postseason for the eighth straight year, while the Canadiens will miss the playoffs for the third straight year.

But Montreal fans still hold a lot of bragging rights in this Original Six rivalry.

The Leafs won their first playoff series in 19 years last season when they knocked off the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round before being eliminated by the Florida Panthers. During those 19 years, the Canadiens won 10 playoff series and advanced to the Stanley Cup final in 2021 after coming back from a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate the Leafs in the first round.

The Canadiens have won a record 24 Stanley Cups, while the Leafs rank second with 13. The Canadiens have won 10 Stanley Cups since the Leafs won their last one in 1967.

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

Advertisement 12

Article content

Welcome back: This was the first game at the Bell Centre for the Canadiens since Feb. 27 after completing a four-game road trip with stops in Florida, Tampa, Nashville and Carolina that ended with a 1-1-2 record. During a brief pregame ceremony, Suzuki was presented with the Molson Cup as the Canadiens’ best player for the month of February when he had 11-6-17 totals in 11 games.

Advertisement 13

Article content

RIP: There was also a pregame moment of silence for former prime minister Brian Mulroney, who died on Feb. 29 at age 84, and for Dr. Francis Fontaine, who died on Friday at age 50 after battling cancer. Fontaine specialized in the treatment of elite athletes, including Canadiens players, for almost 10 years, in addition to working closely with many Olympic athletes. He also worked with Cirque du Soleil performers. Photos of Mulroney were shown on the giant screen during the singing of O Canada by Alexandre Sylvestre.

Advertisement 14

Article content

They said it: “I thought we had jump the whole game,” Caufield said. “I think everybody was playing well tonight. We didn’t have any passengers and it’s a good recipe for success. Just came up short again.”

Added Matheson: “I thought (our performance) was pretty solid from start to finish. They’re a great team over there with a lot of superstar power and I thought we were solid against it all night long. There’s two sides to it where we played a great game and then the competitor in you is still frustrated to play that well against a team like that and not come away with a win.”

What’s next? The Canadiens will be back in action Tuesday when the Columbus Blue Jackets visit the Bell Centre (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

[email protected]

twitter.com/StuCowan1

Recommended from Editorial

Advertisement 15

Article content

Article content