The rivalry between the Leafs and Montreal Canadiens has never lacked for passion, and when the teams clashed Saturday in Montreal at Bell Centre, the Buds and Habs put on another memorable show.
And the roof nearly came off the building just 51 seconds into the first period, when Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw deflected a shot by blueliner Jeff Petry past Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen. But that euphoria wouldn't last too long, as Toronto winger Andreas Johnsson scored his 14th goal of the year at the 2:20 mark to even things right back up.
Video: TOR@MTL: Johnsson crashes net, stuffs puck home
The goal gave Johnsson his sixth point in three games, and came in large part to fellow winger Zach Hyman's drive with the puck toward and around the net before he passed it to Johnsson for the scoring knock-in. And it prevented the Canadiens from building on their first scoring play. In fact, it opened the door for Toronto to take its first lead of the night, and the Leafs took advantage of that opportunity via Nikita Zaitsev's goal.
ZAITSEV'S GOAL GIVES LEAFS FIRST LEAD, BUT HABS TIE IT UP ON ONLY GOAL OF SECOND PERIOD, TAKE LEAD ON GALLAGHER MARKER IN THIRD
Zaitsev began his scoring sequence in his own end, moving the puck up the ice quickly before it entered the Habs' zone and then back to him at the point. Zaitsev moved the puck toward the centre-point of the blue line before firing a shot that eluded netminder Carey Price at 4:42 of the first:
Video: TOR@MTL: Zaitsev scores through heavy traffic
Zaitsev's goal was the final one of the first period - and, unfortunately for the healthy and sizeable group of Leafs Nation at Bell Centre - it was the last Toronto goal that would come until nearly halfway through the third period. Meanwhile, the Canadiens got the tying goal (and only goal of the period) at the 1:13 of the second, then took the lead on Habs winger Brendan Gallagher's 22nd goal of the year at 7:24 of the third. As the halfway point of the third approached, the Canadiens were in control.
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However, the Leafs had more fight in them: Just 1:11 after Gallagher scored, winger William Nylander got control of the puck just outside Montreal's zone, and broke in on a semi-2-on-1 before ripping a wrist shot into the far side of the net.
Video: TOR@MTL: Nylander scores with sizzling wrist shot
That Nylander goal made the rest of regulation time a high-stress situation from both sides - and although Montreal outshot Toronto 14-6 in the third, the Leafs were making the most of their chances, while Andersen was holding the fort at his end.
Because of both those things - Toronto's opportunism on offence, and the consistently stellar play of Andersen in net - the stage was set for one player to step up and be a difference-maker in overtime. And after the Leafs finished killing off a penalty for the first 1:32 of OT, that difference-maker turned out to be centre John Tavares, who took a typically brilliant pass from winger Mitch Marner and backhanded the puck past Price for his 33rd goal of the season.
Video: TOR@MTL: Tavares roofs a backhand shot in OT
Tavares is one of the best finishers in the game, and he's working with a youngster in Marner who is as creative as they come; that's a potent combination for any team to try and keep off the scoresheet - even an opponent as tough as Price and the Habs. And because of that combination, the Leafs won their fourth consecutive game (on the first of a six-game road trip, to boot), and now head immediately to New York City, where they'll take on the Rangers Sunday.
The Blueshirts have dropped four of their past five games, but they're a far better home team (with a record of 14-9-6) than they are on the road (9-14-2), so the Leafs will have to be focused and disciplined against goalie Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers.