It’s only fitting that the first playoff series since 1979 in one of hockey’s most storied rivalries would come down to the Montreal Canadiens visiting the Toronto Maple Leafs for a Game 7 on Monday night.
The Canadiens pushed the best-of-seven, first-round series to its limit Saturday night at Montreal with their second successive overtime victory.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored at 15:15 to give the Canadiens a 3-2 victory even though they were outshot 13-2 in overtime.
Game 6 was played before 2,500 fans, the first live audience at an NHL game in Canada since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
“We could hear them before the game, and going out for the warmup, we had chills again,” said Canadiens captain Shea Weber, who logged more than 37 minutes on defense. “It was unbelievable. It felt like a lot more than 2,500 people, it was amazing. I can’t imagine what 20,000 people would be like because that was electric.”
The series winner will play the Winnipeg Jets.
There will be no fans for the game in Toronto because of pandemic restrictions still in effect in Ontario.
The pressure is on the Maple Leafs, who finished first in the North Division and held a 3-1 lead in the series over the Canadiens, who finished fourth. The Maple Leafs are constantly reminded that the team has not won a playoff series since 2004.
“I think you have to ignore it,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “You’ve got to play. I don’t think pressure has anything to do with it at this stage here. I don’t think that’s a factor. I think the games have gotten harder, Montreal has played better and we haven’t dealt with it well.”
The key to Game 6 and possibly the series was the play of Carey Price in goal for Montreal.
“Without him, we wouldn’t be here now,” Kotkaniemi said. “He saved my (rear) more than once today, so I’m thankful. I think everyone can see he’s carrying our team and making the big save every time.”
“I thought Price played unbelievable and gave us a chance, especially in the overtime, (when) they were pushing,” Weber said.
The Canadiens stormed to the attack from the start of the game and eventually scored on two third-period power plays. But, for the second game in a row, the Maple Leafs forced overtime by scoring two straight goals.
“For the first three periods, I don’t think we had too many lows,” Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme said. “I thought we had good offensive zone time, really good chances in the first period when we could have had two or three goals. We were really dynamic.”
The Leafs hurt themselves. When Corey Perry scored Montreal’s first power-play goal of the series, Keefe made a questionable challenge for goaltender interference and lost, giving Toronto a delay-of-game penalty. Just 19 seconds into the penalty, Mitch Marner cleared the puck over the glass, which resulted in another penalty. Tyler Toffoli scored on the 5-on-3 man advantage.
“Dumb play,” Marner said. “I tried to get it down ice for Zach Hyman to chase on it.”
The Maple Leafs lost defenseman Jake Muzzin to an injury during the second period, and he did not return. Keefe had no update on Muzzin after the game.
“We’re going back home, and we’ve got to be ready,” Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews said.
–Field Level Media