The Maple Leafs’ streak of seven games without a regulation loss came to an end on Saturday night at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens.
Like many of the 734 previous outings in this historic rivalry, the game had its share of controversy, fisticuffs, and animosity. Oh, and there were a few goals scored along the way.
In fact, it took just 20 seconds after the opening faceoff for the Habs to open the scoring after Max Pacioretty beat Frederik Andersen, starting his second game in as many nights.
Montreal’s Arturri Lehkonen opened up a two-goal lead for his team when his trickler of a shot deflected off Connor Brown’s stick and just under the elbow of Andersen.
The Leafs responded with a pair of power play goals. The line of James van Riemsdyk, Mitch Marner and Tyler Bozak completed a tic-tac-toe scoring play, Marner showing incredible awareness with a no-look backhand touch pass to Bozak for a tap-in goal. Toronto equaled the score when Nazem Kadri converted a rebound off a Marner shot, to the delight of the majority of the 19,796 fans in attendance.
But the momentum was deflated with 1.6 seconds left in the opening frame as the Habs struck on a power play of their own. Nikita Scherbak, making his NHL debut, got in behind Leafs defender Nikita Zaitsev and scored from the top of the crease, his first career goal in the big leagues.
It took only 36 seconds for the Habs to open up their second two-goal lead on the evening, courtesy of Alex Radulov – another power play goal – when Andersen appeared to get tangled with defender Roman Polak.
The midway mark of the game was highlighted by a pair of simultaneous fights. Frederik Gauthier landed more than his fair share of punches against Bobby Farnham, and Matt Martin and Michael McCarron dueled in a prolonged bout. Gauthier and Farnham were both given majors and game misconducts.
But the bad blood was far from over. Zach Hyman was at the centre of a skirmish after he knocked over Habs goalie Carey Price as a result of being pushed into the netminder by Price’s teammate Alexei Emelin. To the displeasure of the home crowd, Hyman was called for goaltender interference.
Towards the end of the period, Marner dazzled the Air Canada Centre fans with a circumnavigation of the Montreal zone with the puck before dishing off to van Riemsdyk who boosted the Leafs to within a goal.
The backbreaker came in the third period when McCarron’s shot from a bad angle got through Andersen.
“Obviously I didn’t make the right decision there,” Babcock said of his choice of goaltender. “In saying that, the last time we did it we thought it was the right decision. This time it wasn’t the right decision. It’s amazing how winning and losing goes into those things.”
Andersen, who made 26 saves, made no excuses. “Sometimes your focus is not really there but you have to be a pro and be able to get up for that second game,” he said.
“It wasn’t my best game but some good things and some bad things too. I think the guys did a good job coming back from those two-goal deficits. A couple of times I made a mistake and it let them pad the lead.”
The Leafs now begin their league-mandated five-day break, or ‘bye week’ before returning to the ice at Madison Square Garden next Friday to face the New York Rangers.
van Riemsdyk-Bozak- Marner