Revenge is better served cold and what better way to do so than to deliver it… on ice. Few gave the Montreal Canadiens any chances of standing nose to nose with the almighty Toronto Maple Leafs in this best of seven series, which got underway last night. Just about every single member of the media picked the Leafs to walk all over the Habs, most talking about a sweep or maybe leaving one token game for Montreal. Well, it didn’t take long for Dominique Ducharme‘s group to get that win, a hard-fought 2-1 effort in Game One of the series.
By doing so, the Canadiens served the Toronto media, Leafs’ fans and even some of their own fans a heavy slide of humble pie. No, the Habs’ win was not a fluke. With maybe the exception of the second period, where Montreal wasn’t skating and hitting as much, the Canadiens were the team carrying the play for the most part. Heavy underdogs going in, it sure didn’t show from puck drop to the final buzzer.
The biggest difference between the two teams was exactly what we discussed on this blog recently: physicality. Some laughed it off when we wrote about it. It turned out that the Canadiens’ physical edge, out-hitting Toronto 55-27 during the game, was a key contributor to getting the Maple Leafs out of their comfort zone, out of their element.
In several occasions, we noticed key Leafs’ players getting rid of the puck much sooner than they would have liked to, creating turnovers in favour of Montreal. Three times, the Leafs took penalties for delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass in their defensive zone. While one of them was a fluke, almost a deflection on a shoot-in, the other two were related to getting rid of the puck.
The Price is Right
While Josh Anderson gave the Canadiens some momentum with his skating, hitting and opening the scoring, there were a couple more key contributors for the Habs. Most notably the man with the red, blue and white mask. Carey Price was outstanding in net. Calm and composed, he smothered and controlled rebounds, he played the puck as a third defenseman, and he absolutely robbed Mitch Marner from giving the Leafs a 2-1 lead in the third period.
That save was the turning point as minutes later, with Tomas Tatar in the penalty box, Paul Byron made Rasmus Sandin look like he was skating in quicksand by out-skating the Leafs’ defenseman to the race towards the Leafs’ zone. Sandin dove, tripped Byron (delayed penalty was being called) who then controlled the puck from his belly to flip it over Jack Campbell. This spectacular goal turned out to be the difference in the game, with the Habs upsetting everyone in Toronto with a 2-1 win.
Many Habs’ fans were upset at Ducharme for not dressing Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Cole Caufield and Alexander Romanov, preferring to go with veterans Eric Staal, Corey Perry and Jon Merrill. As it’s often the case, the fans’ passion got the best of them, accusing Ducharme of all sorts of things, a lot of it being nonsense.
The veterans delivered. In his limited time on the ice, Staal was better than what we’ve gotten to see of him during regular season. With 10:44 of ice time (3:18 on the PP), he managed one assist, two shots on goal and three hits. Perry is living rent-free in the Leafs’ heads and that’s a good thing. The big winger had one shot on goal and four hits in just over 13 minutes of ice time.
A very scary moment in the game when Ben Chiarot hit John Tavares. In his fall, Tavares rolled at his blue line when his good friend, Corey Perry, was skating out of the Leafs’ zone. He saw Tavares at the last minute, jumped to try to avoid the collision but Perry’s knee hit the Leafs’ captain right in the head. The doctors from both teams came onto the ice and Tavares was taken off the ice on a stretcher.
Ridiculously enough, when the play finally resumed, Nick Foligno went after Perry, challenging him to a fight. Perry, who was visibly shaken up with the collision, certainly did not intend to injure his friend and it seems like only the Leafs thought that it might have been intentional. Since Perry answered the call of this “fake code” (I say fake as it wasn’t Perry’s fault at all), one would have thought that it would be over but later in the game, both Wayne Simmonds and Zach Bogosian tried to get to Perry.
The Canadiens also suffered an injury when Jake Evans left the game and did not return. His status is unknown at this time. If he cannot go on Saturday, we will likely see Kotkaniemi return to the line-up as he has had success between Byron and Artturi Lehkonen, who were Evans’ wingers.
Game two goes on Saturday, when the Canadiens will try to take a commanding 2-0 series’ lead. Go Habs Go!