It may or may not have been an early preview of the first round of the North Division playoffs, but with the Montreal Canadiens beating the Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime on Monday, the Habs took another step to securing their spot in this year’s postseason.
The win tied the Canadiens with the Winnipeg Jets for third in the North Division and set up an interesting scenario for the final couple weeks of the regular season. On top of that, it reminded everyone of the parity that exists in the NHL as the top-dog Maple Leafs succumb yet again to their divisional rivals.
Still, with the 3-2 overtime loss, there’s a lot to unravel from the Maple Leafs’ play. From an early lead, to a last minute tying goal, here’s what can be taken away from Monday night’s affair.
Duo of the Future: Caufield, Suzuki
From here on out, the Maple Leafs will have to find a way to stop a new duo in the NHL – especially with how often they see the Canadiens year in and year out. While he’s only five games into his NHL career Cole Caufield is already making a name for himself, alongside another young talent on the Canadiens in Nick Suzuki.
Caufield ended Monday’s game with the Maple Leafs by tallying his second goal of the season in overtime with just over 15 seconds left in the frame. This came just two nights after he tallied his first career NHL goal – another overtime winner against the Ottawa Senators. And the exciting plays are just starting to come to light for the 20-year-old American.
Now, add Suzuki to that mix and the Canadiens are in for some incredible hockey over the next number of years. Suzuki recorded three assists on Monday against the Maple Leafs, adding to an already impressive year for the 21-year-old. Suzuki has 12 goals and 37 points in 51 games for the Habs this season and with the two of them working together down the road, the Canadiens are going to be a very dangerous team.
Auston “Rocket Richard” Matthews
It’s almost like every time he touches the puck, it’s going in the net. And while the Canadiens have their duo, the Maple Leafs are seeing a goal-scoring pace that has only been topped by Mario Lemieux over the past 35 years.
At only 23, Matthews has taken the NHL by storm with his innate ability to score goals. We know that. But something about this season has been different for the Maple Leafs’ forward who is averaging 0.81 goals per game and will likely pass the 40-goal plateau for the third time in his career.
On Monday, Matthews padded his Rocket Richard lead with his 39th goal in just his 48th game for the Maple Leafs this season. The goal also kept Matthews’ goal streak alive at four consecutive games dating back to April 24 against Winnipeg as the last game in which he didn’t score.
Needless to say, the Maple Leafs and Canadiens games will be something well worth watching with the players involved for the foreseeable future.
Foligno Leaves Early
On a less impressive note, at least from a Maple Leafs standpoint, their biggest trade deadline acquisition was forced to leave the game early when Nick Foligno went hard to the Montreal net coming away in discomfort.
Foligno, who had recorded a point in each of his first four games with the Maple Leafs, played just 9:05 in the game before he was forced to leave with an injury, being replaced on the top line by Joe Thornton.
While there was no update provided on his status following the game, the Maple Leafs did say it was an upper-body injury and that he will be re-evaluated. Simply put, it would be a major loss for the Maple Leafs if Foligno was out for any extended period of time.
Also Worth Noting…
Thornton grabbed an assist on Matthews’ goal to extend his point streak to six games. Over that span, he has two goals and four assists. The last game in which he was held off the scoresheet was back on April 20 in Vancouver.
The Maple Leafs’ special teams struggled once again – especially their power play. While they gave up a power play goal to tie it in the second period, they went 0-for-3 on their man advantages with just five shots on Jake Allen. An effort they are familiar with after their horrendous power play streak earlier in the year.
While the Maple Leafs weren’t able to pull this one out, if this is in fact a preview of the first round, expect there to be fireworks in the form of goals if these teams do in fact meet when the playoffs kick off later this month.
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.