MONTREAL – Last time the Toronto Maple Leafs rolled through Montreal, the last-place Canadiens rolled over them.
The lowly Habs exploded for the game’s first five goals, and a half-full Bell Center was on its feet chanting, “Olé! Ole! Oh!” midway through Period 2. To be frank, it was arguably the flattest performance turned in by these Cup-dreaming Maple Leafs in 2022.
“Those are always games you keep in the back of your head,” Auston Matthews said before Saturday’s rematch. “We didn’t come out with much of a purpose that game, and they had a lot of fun. We get another crack at them here.”
While Toronto’s crack was much more forceful this time around, the result was the same: two points left unclaimed, as the grossly outshot Canadians squeezed out a 4-2 win.
Again, Toronto failed to stash points in meeting against the 32nd-ranked club.
The Maple Leafs asserted their dominance early in the rematch, delaying Montreal’s first shot on Erik Källgren until the evening’s nine-minute mark and jumping on the scoreboard on their very first shift.
Matthews kept his pursuit of 50 humming, wiring his NHL-best 47th goal of the season, past Jake Allen. Wingmen Mitch Marner (70 points) and Michael Bunting (50 points) collected benchmark stats with assists on the sequence.
“I didn’t come in this year thinking I’d be producing like this. I just really wanted to help this team. Individual success is a good thing, too. So, I’m happy with my season. I just kinda hope I can keep it rolling,” said Bunting before the game, unsure why the bulk of his points have arrived away from Scotiabank Arena.
“It’s funny. My dad actually texted me, saying, ‘Oh, you’re going back on the road. That’s good.’ He just laughed. … I love playing in front of the fans, but right now I’m just scoring more on the road.”
In the second frame, David Savard activated from the blue line, beat William Nylander on a drive to the net and converted a beautiful cross-ice feed from Laurent Dauphin to tie a game that had no business being so.
“They are a team that’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Jason Spezza said beforehand. “Marty (St. Louis) has got them playing free hockey. They check hard now. Those are dangerous teams to play against.”
Cole Caufield sniped his 14th of his rookie season on the power play, giving the home side the lead. And the barn erupted about as loud as one can when it houses the first team to be mathematically eliminated from the postseason.
That’s not a dig. That’s a compliment to a city smart enough to recognize a reset and still turn out in rowdy droves to appreciate a strong effort on a Saturday night.
The Leafs stuck with it, and Nylander knotted the game 2-2 with a power-play strike.
Halfway through the third, as tensions swelled and the Leafs controlled play, the Bell Center did The Wave.
Partying like they already knew what was coming.
Paul Byron played the role of hero, looking pass but sniping the winner on an odd-man rush.
Christian Dvorak tacked on an empty-netter.
Sometimes winning the night can be satisfying enough.
“It’s one of the best places to play the NHL,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “If you’re on the road, it’s an incredible environment, great atmosphere. Coming in with the Leafs, even more so.”
Indeed, the atmosphere was incredible.
The Leafs should hope for the same Sunday as they host the mighty Florida Panthers in the second half of this back-to-back.
Petr Mrazek will start in net for Toronto.
Fox’s Fast 5
• Kyle Dubas inked prospect Nick Abruzzese to his two-year entry-level deal Saturday. Next up: Get Matthew Knies to commit.
The playmaker Abruzzese, 22, was a point per game player for Team USA at the Olympics, and recorded 33 points in 28 games as a sophomore with Harvard this season. Dubas has been saving a roster spot to give him an NHL peek in April.
“He’s a really, really good hockey player. He’s got dynamic skills. Super good with the puck. He’s got an elite brain, and he’s a really good offensive player,” said fellow Harvard man Alexander Kerfoot.
“The other thing you notice is just his hunger. He wants to get better. He wants to be the best player on the ice every night.”
• Timothy Liljegren is getting time on the second power-play unit, but Keefe said the two-defencemen formation is more about having security when the two minutes drains and 5-on-5 play resumes. If PP2 hops the boards with plenty of time 5-on-4, the coach will still roll four forwards.
• “O Canada” was sung in French, English and Cree before the game — a trilingual, one-anthem game.
• Injury roundup: Ondrej Kase has yet to skate with the club since taking a blow to the head from Matt Duchene on March 19 in Nashville. “There’s no real update,” Keefe said. “In fact, I haven’t even heard much on him other than he’s not going to be available this week.”
Jack Campbell (rib) has been ramping up his workload. The No. 1 goalie will travel with the Leafs to Boston Tuesday and could be available Thursday versus Winnipeg, at the earliest. If not, bet on the first week of April.
Rasmus Sandin (knee) has begun working out in the gym but has not been on the ice. He’s still weeks away. “His spirit is pretty good. He’s been unlucky this year with injuries,” said friend Liljegren. “He always brings a smile to the rink. He’ll get through it.”
• Quote of the Day:
“He’s very calm, cool, and collected. Shelly doesn’t show a lot of emotion, which I think is good for a goaltender — especially in Toronto.” — Michael Bunting on Erik Källgren