The Maple Leafs squandered another opportunity at putting away the Canadiens on Saturday night, and now must win on Monday to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Montreal won in overtime 3-2 to force a seventh and deciding game in the first-round series between the National Hockey League’s oldest rivals. With its second-straight loss in sudden death, Toronto has now lost six straight chances to close out a postseason series since 2018. The last time the Maple Leafs won one was in 2004.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored the winning goal, with 4 minutes 45 seconds left in the first extra period. The team that wins on Monday will play the Winnipeg Jets in the next round.
The only Game 7 to date between Toronto and Montreal came in the 1964 semifinals, when Dave Keon scored all three Maple Leafs goals in a winner-take-all showdown en route to hoisting the Stanley Cup.
Fans were on hand for hockey in Canada for the first time in more than 14 months and created a jubilant ruckus throughout. With a curfew in Montreal lifted only a day earlier, a celebration of both freedom and hockey unfolded at the Bell Centre.
Although the crowd was limited to just 2,500 people, it sounded much louder. Fans stood and roared when Carey Price, the Canadiens goaltender, led the home team onto the ice. They sang “O Canada” lustily in two languages and one voice. They waved white towels and booed when Auston Matthews, the Toronto star, touched the puck.
Especially early on, the cacophony seemed to boost their beloved Les Habitants.
Montreal deluged Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell with pucks, and at one point had a 10-0 lead in shots. Campbell stopped numerous dangerous chances, including attempts from in close by Phillip Danault and Tyler Toffoli, and a breakaway by Nick Suzuki. The latter beat Campbell with the overtime winner in Game 5.
At the other end, Price was just as good. In the final minute and a half of the first period, he made difficult saves on Mitch Marner and Nick Foligno, who returned to the lineup after missing three games with an undisclosed injury.
As the teams went to their dressing rooms for the first intermission, a chant of “Carey, Carey, Carey” washed over the arena. After so long, such a sweet sound.
The game was scoreless through the first 40 minutes, and then the Canadiens jumped on top 2-0 in the third period on power-play goals by Corey Perry and Tyler Toffoli. Just as they did in Thursday’s defeat, the Maple Leafs battled back and tied it late. This time it was Jason Spezza and T.J. Brodie that did the damage for Toronto. Brodie had scored just once in 56 regular-season games.
Matthews, who led the NHL with 41 goals, has just one in six this postseason. Marner has yet to score in the series, and has now gone 16 consecutive playoff games without goal.
“We have to be better in these situations,” Marner said.
Marner also panicked and flipped a puck over the glass and was called for delay of game, which gave the Canadiens the 5-on-3 advantage that led to their second score.
“A dumb play,” Marner said.
Nobody would argue.
After losing the opening game in the series, the Maple Leafs won three in a row. They have now frittered away the overwhelming advantage that they had.
“You work hard to give yourself a crack at putting a team away,” Nick Foligno, the Toronto centre, said. “We’re coming up on three chances now.
“We’ve come back and come back in the last two games. At some point, we’ll come through. It is time for the clichés to stop. It is Game 7, and time to put everything on the line.”
Price put on a masterful performance in the Canadiens net, stopping all but two of the 43 shots he faced. Jack Campbell was also excelled for Toronto, stopping 31 of 34.
Facing elimination in Game 5, the Canadiens came out with urgency and built a 2-0 lead 8:18 into the first period on goals by forward Joel Armia. They got ahead again, even though the Maple Leafs players said they realized they needed a better start.
“That is unacceptable this time of year,” Foligno said. “It is something we have to rectify.”
This series is the first between the Maple Leafs and Canadiens in the playoffs since 1979.
Toronto captured their first division title since 1999-2000, but none of that matters now.
“It is frustrating losing the game, but I like the way we battled back,” Matthews said. “We had plenty of chances. We just didn’t get it done.”
Matthews gave kudos to the boisterous crowd.
“We haven’t seen fans in more than a year,” he said. “It definitely brings a different dynamic. It was an awesome atmosphere.”
Toronto has one more chance. It will be its seventh since 2018.
“We’d like to rewrite that script,” Matthews said.