Auston Matthews leads the way as Maple Leafs even series with Canadiens

·4 min read

TORONTO — Auston Matthews scored the go-ahead goal and added two assists as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-1 on Saturday night to even their first-round playoff series 1-1.

William Nylander, with a goal and an assist, Jason Spezza, Rasmus Sandin and Alexander Kerfoot, into an empty net, also scored for Toronto, which got 22 saves from Jack Campbell. Mitch Marner chipped in with two helpers.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi replied for Montreal. Carey Price stopped 29 shots as the best-of-seven matchup between these storied Original Six rivals now shifts to the Bell Centre for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Tuesday.

The Canadiens took the opener by a 2-1 scoreline on the back of Price's 35-save performance and Paul Byron's spectacular short-handed winner.

The Leafs, who haven't advanced to the second round since 2004, were minus captain John Tavares after he suffered a concussion and knee injury on a scary collision 10 minutes into Game 1. 

Tied 1-1 after 20 minutes, Toronto took its first lead of the series at 5:15 of the second period when Matthews — the Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy winner with an NHL-best 41 goals in 52 regular-season contests — buried a Justin Holl rebound on an odd-man rush.

Matthews had seven goals and 14 points in 10 games against Montreal, and now has 20 goals in 26 combined career outings versus the Canadiens.

The Leafs' struggling power play, which went 0 for 4 in Game 1 and also surrendered Byron's highlight-reel effort, was thwarted on two more man-advantage opportunities thanks to big stops from Price on Matthews and Spezza before Marner dangled around the goaltender only to be denied by Joel Armia in the Canadiens' crease.

But the North Division's No. 1 seed got another opportunity when Kotkaniemi went off for cross-checking, and Sandin blasted a one-timer through a crowd and past Price for the rookie defenceman's first-career playoff goal at 13:20.

Montreal interim head coach Dominique Ducharme curiously challenged for goalie interference on Price by Joe Thornton despite there not appearing to be much contact with the veteran winger's stick, but the call on the ice stood after the referees took a long look.

The failed challenge handed Toronto another power play, although the Canadiens survived to only be down two heading to the third.

The Leafs got their fifth man advantage midway through the third, and after Matthews ripped a one-timer off the post, the puck bounced kindly to Nylander for him to bag his second of the series at 8:50 for the club's first two-goal performance on the power play since March 3.

The Canadiens pulled Price for an extra attacker with 6:30 left in regulation as Ducharme once again rolled the dice, but Kerfoot iced it into the empty net with 1:23 left.

The first Montreal-Toronto playoff series since 1979, the Leafs picked up their first post-season win over the Canadiens since Game 6 of the 1967 Stanley Cup final, which secured the franchise's last title.

The home side had a couple of good early chances, but the Canadiens opened the scoring at 7:17 of a physical first when Kotkaniemi shovelled home a loose puck with Campbell swimming in his crease after making two stops.

Toronto responded at 12:25 following a terrific shift in Montreal's zone. A pass by Canadiens winger Artturi Lehkonen went off the referee's skate before forechecking Leafs defenceman Zach Bogosian fed a pass in front that a hard-charging Spezza, who was coming off the bench, stole from teammate Wayne Simmonds and wired short side on Price.

Released from hospital Friday after undergoing a CT scan and an MRI, Tavares is out indefinitely, but Toronto general manager Kyle Dubas said before Game 2 the veteran centre avoided any structural damage to his head, neck and spine when he took an accidental knee to the face from Canadiens winger Corey Perry.

Alex Galchenyuk dressed in place of Tavares, while Pierre Engvall took the spot of Riley Nash up front as Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe looked to boost his lineup's speed and skill. On the other side, Kotkaniemi suited up for Montreal after fellow centre Jake Evans left Game 1 with an undisclosed injury.

Nick Foligno slid over to take the spot of Tavares on Toronto's second line between Galchenyuk and Nylander.

Notes: Campbell picked up his first playoff win in his second playoff start. ... Toronto went 7-2-1 against Montreal during the regular season. ... The Canadiens finished 18 points back of the Leafs in the standings.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 22, 2021.

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press