The Toronto Maple Leafs finished atop the North Division and entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a prohibitive favorite over the Montreal Canadiens, but after taking a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, the Leafs have not been able to put away the Habs and face potential elimination in Game 7 at Scotiabank Arena.
Toronto appeared to have control of the series after a pair of road victories in Games 3 and 4 in Montreal put them one win from advancing in the postseason for the first time since 2004, but the Leafs have been unable to shut the door on the Canadiens with surprisingly incomplete efforts.
Montreal jumped out to a 3-0 lead in Game 5 before Toronto began to put forth more effort. Toronto staged a third-period comeback and tied the game on a pair of goals from Jake Muzzin, but that was undone just 59 seconds into overtime as Alex Galchenyuk’s giveaway sprung Nick Suzuki and rookie Cole Caufield on a 2-on-0 breakaway for the game-winner.
Game 6 unfolded in a similar fashion, as Toronto was outplayed by for most of the contest and kept within striking distance by goalie Jack Campbell. Montreal scored twice on the power play early in the third, but goals from Jason Spezza and TJ Brodie late in regulation tied the game to force overtime. The Leafs dominated sudden death, outshooting the Canadiens 13-2, but a defensive zone turnover by Travis Dermott resulted in Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s overtime winner to tie the series.
“That scenario of the game hasn’t been nearly good enough for us in the last two. There’s a responsibility for the players to be ready at the drop of the puck, but as a coaching staff and as the head coach, I take a lot of that responsibility myself to have the group ready and that hasn’t been the case.” Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe said on Sunday. “We’re looking at that, we’re talking about that. It is of course a very important thing for us to establish that. (At the) same time, Montreal is a team who’s going to come with lots of energy and speed and pressure early. In the games where we’ve had success as a team, we’ve managed that early on and then pulled away as the game has gone along,”
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A focal point of the series has been the inability of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner to score and the pressure that is mounting on the top liners. Matthews has just four points and scored three of them in a 5-1 win in Game 2. Marner has four assists in six games, but has a 17-game goalless streak extending back to 2019.
“Montreal has done a good job against them,” Keefe said. “(Matthews and Marner) have found ways to generate some really good high danger chances in every game, and they haven’t executed and hasn’t gone in for them. Obviously (Carey Price) is part of Montreal and their plan, and his ability to keep it out of the net.”
The Leafs are still expected to move on past the Canadiens to a second-round match with the Winnipeg Jets without team captain John Tavares in the lineup for Game 7 and defenseman Jake Muzzin’s status is in question, but only if they can muster a complete effort in a do-or-die game.
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