It was their first opportunity to close out their first-round series with the Montreal Canadiens, but on Thursday the Toronto Maple Leafs just didn’t seem right from the opening drop of the puck. And, to their credit, the Canadiens took full advantage for most of their Game 5 matchup to take the series back to Montreal on Saturday where there will be fans for the first time in this head-to-head.
As for how Thursday night’s game went down, the Maple Leafs had their opportunities. In fact, aside from the first period, the Maple Leafs out-shot the Canadiens 27 to 15 from the second period onwards, but it was Canadiens who were able to jump out to an early lead and close out the game in overtime to send this series to a sixth game.
With that in mind, here’s a look at what can be taken away from the Maple Leafs’ 4-3 overtime loss.
The Comeback Kids
The comeback kids – at least that’s what they were called at one point. And on Thursday the Maple Leafs had to use every ounce of energy in their lineup to get back in the game and force it to overtime in the first place.
They gave up a goal just over five minutes into the game to Joel Armia, who – three minutes later – added another to put the Canadiens up 2-0 early in the first period. The Canadiens came out hungry with 14 shots in the first period, and earning themselves a lead after just 20 minutes.
As the second period rolled around, the Canadiens pushed the lead even further as Jesperi Kotkaniemi landed a tally to make it 3-0 just under five minutes into the second. From there, the Canadiens played a defensive game – trying to shut things down in their own end.
That, however, didn’t work. Zach Hyman was placed back on the Maple Leafs top line and within a minute and a half had got the Maple Leafs back within two goals with his first of the playoffs.
While it took until the third period, the Maple Leafs were able to tie the game on two goals by Jake Muzzin – one just under seven minutes in and the other coming just 12 minutes into the play. Muzzin’s efforts earned the team a split following 60 minutes and forced overtime, but what’s more interesting is that while the Maple Leafs defence have been integral to their offensive output in this series, the Canadiens have not received one point from their blue line through the first five games of the series.
The Overtime Giveaway
The overtime was short and sweet. It showcased the future of the Canadiens in Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki and the questionable decision making of Alex Galchenyuk in that particular moment.
Oh, and it showed the class of Jack Campbell who, after giving up the two-on-none breakaway goal, took responsibility and said that he should’ve had it. No Jack, you shouldn’t have.
Still the play that led to the goal was made just inside the Canadiens blue line where, after an aggressive pinch by Zach Bogosian led to Galchenyuk having the puck at the blue line before very quickly sending it along the blue line where it was picked off by Caulfield.
Caulfield quickly turned it back up ice with Suzuki and the two masterfully executed the two-on-none give-and-go with Suzuki finishing off the play just 59 seconds into the extra frame. The goal displayed the speed and skill of the young Canadiens – hyping the future of their organization. But most of all, the giveaway and the goal, led the Canadiens to yet another elimination game back home in Montreal.
Maple Leafs’ Missed Opportunity
For the Maple Leafs, the overtime goal signified a missed opportunity to close out the series. Now, as mentioned, the series shifts back to Montreal where there are fans expected to be in the stands. The question now becomes how much of a difference maker will that be? Is that true home ice advantage for the Canadiens?
The comeback put momentum on the side of the Maple Leafs. The closed out regulation with a number of in-close opportunities. But the overtime tally for Suzuki was deflating. And this could quickly get out of hand.
Win Game 5 at home. Unaccomplished. Game 6 in Montreal with fans is a different story and if the Maple Leafs can’t get it done yet again, this series could easily be going to a deciding Game 7 which make the series a complete toss up. After all, we know how the Maple Leafs have faired in Game 7s in recent history.
When packing for Montreal, the Maple Leafs will need to pack the determination, the ferociousness and the put-away instinct if they want to get it done. Otherwise, momentum will be in the Canadiens favour coming back to Toronto for Game 7 – which is never a good thing.
Also Worth Noting…
John Tavares skated and was in attendance for Thursday’s game. While they are all positive signs, take it with a grain of salt. The likelihood is that they wanted him around the team during recovery and that’s why he’s there. Regardless, it was positive to see that and surely the team knows what it needs to do in Game 6 in order to bring home the series win for Tavares.
Travis Dermott was back out of the lineup, however, he could slot back in on Saturday. Sandin wasn’t on the first power play unit and wasn’t as visible as previous games with only 6:11 of ice-time. Chances are we’ll be seeing Dermott again for the weekend set.
As for Campbell, he did look shaky early on. It’s obvious that it wasn’t his best performance of the season, but just from watching him, he seemed to be over committing to the puck and swimming around his crease a little more than he has most of the season. That could be fatigue from playing the back-to-back or it could simply be that it wasn’t his night. Either way, expect a bounce back game from him on Saturday as well.
The series could go one of two ways and Saturday could be a defining moment for this series. Like it or not, Game 6 in Montreal will be an important one for both teams even if it’s stretched out to a seventh game.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.