After losing team captain John Tavares in a traumatic collision with Montreal winger Corey Perry in Game 1, the Toronto Maple Leafs fell to the Canadiens 2-1 in the opening game of their first-round best-of-seven series, but the Leafs rebounded with an excellent offensive effort and some physical pushback in a 5-1 victory in Game 2 on Saturday night.
With the series shifting to the Bell Centre for back-to-back games on Monday and Tuesday, the Maple Leafs will hope to continue to rally around the loss of their captain and get contributions throughout their lineup to take the lead in the series, while the Habs will look to re-establish their physical edge and find a way of converting on more of their own chances after scoring just three goals in the first two games.
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“(Tavares) took it upon himself to send messages out to the team and reassure the team and I thought that really helped put our guys in the right headspace. We had great concern and fear in that moment, but after he was feeling better, he made sure to communicate to his teammates and I think that really helped our team push past it.” Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe said after the Game 2 win. “Of course, you’re winning for him, you’re winning for all the guys who don’t get to play, you’re winning for the guy next to you in the room or guy on the bench. There’s all sorts of reasons to compete. We have another one here to make sure that everybody is on board and doing their job.”
After allowing Montreal the opening goal in the first period for the second straight game, the Leafs responded to tie before the end of the opening stanza and took control of the contest, thanks to Rocket Richard winner Auston Matthews and Toronto’s struggling power play. Matthews scored the game-winning goal and added two assists, while the Leafs scored twice with the man advantage.
With Tavares out, Toronto shifted veteran winger Nick Foligno up the middle and gave more ice time to third and fourth line centers Alex Kerfoot and Jason Spezza. Foligno won 13 of 16 faceoffs on the night, and Kerfoot and Spezza each scored a goal.
Toronto’s response physically was just as important to their Game 2 victory as their ability to find the net. In the series opener, the Habs outhit the Leafs 55-27 with big forward Josh Anderson and defensemen Shea Weber and Joel Edmundson punishing the opposition. In Game 2, the gap was less (44-36) with Leaf forwards Matthews, Zach Hyman, and defenseman Jake Muzzin stepping up.
With Montreal in need of offense, head coach Dominique Ducharme may opt to insert forward Cole Caufield (who scored four goals in 10 games at the end of the regular season) for Game 3, with the Habs more able to protect the prized rookie with the last change at home. Otherwise, the Canadiens will have to rely on their defense to keep the scoring chances down and goaltender Carey Price to keep the game close.