‘Visiting’ Maple Leafs overtake Canadiens in Toronto tune-up

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Sheldon Keefe only really noticed the fact that his team were playing in front of no audiences during Tuesday’s national anthem.Other than that, the Toronto Maple Leafs head coach felt it was a pretty normal game – in extremely abnormal weather.

Morgan Rielly had one goal and two assists, Alexander Kerfoot scored twice and the Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 in their exhibition game as the NHL resumed its 2019-20 pandemic-stricken season.

“During the anthems, it’s a moment where you look at the flag and take the whole environment,” Keefe said. “It’s very different today from what you’re used to. This is the moment when you really feel the moment and you really miss the fans and the environment, and you recognize what they bring.

“Once the puck dropped… it was really like hockey and you didn’t notice it much.

The very first July reunion in the franchise rivalry in 103 years, things were made even stranger by the fact that Montreal was named as the home team and occupied the Leafs’ locker room at the Scotiabank Arena.

“2020 has been weird,” Habs forward Brendan Gallagher said. “It was probably the strangest thing we’ve been through. ”

Toronto, meanwhile, wore her white clothes and used the visitor’s bench for the first time in its 21-year history.

“The atmosphere is just different given what we’re going through,” said Leafs captain John Tavares. “You kind of go with the flow and try to focus on good preparation as best you can. ”

About a dozen rows of seats above the glass were covered in the room without spectators, while eight separate screens were suspended from the ceiling, adding a video game feel as the two teams played a game for the first time in 140 days. .

“There’s a lot of stuff that went into that,” Tavares added. “Just lucky to be back in competition. ”

WATCH | Kerfoot’s pair lift the Leafs over the Canadiens:

Alexander Kerfoot registers 2 goals in the middle frame as Toronto doubles Montreal 4-2. 0:31

Ilya Mikheyev had the other goal for the Leafs, who got 28 saves from Frederik Andersen. Tomas Tatar and Paul Byron replied for the Canadiens. Carey Price stopped 19 shots for Montreal.

The Canadiens open their best five-round qualifying streak against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, the first day games really count, before the Leafs do the same 24 hours later against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Gallagher said his team will need to simplify their approach this weekend.

“We were probably all guilty of it,” he said. “The brain wasn’t following. ”

Mikheyev, who suffered a horrific wrist laceration at the end of December, scored just 33 seconds after his first game in an empty and cavernous building as the league resumed action after shutdowns at the mid-March due to COVID-19.

Kerfoot made it 2-0 at 6:46 of a second when he rebounded after Kasperi Kapanen was stopped on a shorthanded breakaway.

WATCH | Rob Pizzo presents the Leafs against the Blue Jackets:

In part 3 of 10, Rob Pizzo breaks down the now healthy Leafs and Blue Jackets 1:18

Tatar got a comeback for Montreal with 3:04 left in the second on a power play, but Kerfoot tipped Rielly’s shot late in the period to make it 3-1. Leafs rookie Nick Robertson, who was making his NHL debut after a 55-goal season in the Ontario Hockey League, got the other assist.

“He’s a very impressive young kid to step into this situation,” Kerfoot said. “You can see every time he’s on the ice how good he is.

Byron went 3-2 at 8:07 of the third, but Rielly restored the two-goal lead 1:22 later with Toronto’s second shorthanded goal of the night.

“Overall we were happy with it,” the Leafs defenseman said of his team’s efforts. “Anytime you play any kind of pre-tournament, a pre-season game like this, there are going to be some issues to work out. ”

While viewers were treated to the man-made noise of the crowd, the media seated in the top bowl could hear nearly every word on the ice – including a few swear words – which is why the NHL implemented a time limit of five seconds on broadcasts. A particularly loud curse word roared in the second period, however, passed the censors.

Music blasts as the players, who remain inside the tightly controlled NHL bubble, which includes the Fairmont Royal York just steps away, take to the ice for warm-ups with only reporters, employees. of the arena and the league staff.

WATCH | Rob Pizzo presents the Canadiens vs. the Penguins:

Can Carey Price help the Habs to achieve a huge setback against the Penguins? Rob Pizzo breaks their chances. 1:17

A member of the Leafs let out a giant “wooooo”, while Toronto winger Mitch Marner continued his pre-game tradition by pretending to throw a puck over the window at an imaginary fan after warm-ups.

“It kind of reminds me of a minor hockey tournament where you are there and you stay in the same hotel as several other teams,” Kerfoot said of the early days in the bubble. “It’s obviously a different feeling, but this whole tournament is unique and the situation we’re in is unique. ”

Players from both teams stood side by side on the blue line for the national anthem in solidarity with social justice movements which, like the pandemic, have been at the forefront since the last hockey game in North America.

The Eastern Conference clubs are located in the Toronto hub as part of the 24-team restart, while the West has been centralized in Edmonton.

With the Canadians named as the home team, Coldplay’s “Fix You” reverberated around the building as the teams took to the ice before Mikheyev finished a 2-1 with John Tavares on the first shot of the game.

WATCH | Hockey is finally underway:

After a 138-day hiatus due to COVID-19, the NHL season is back with exhibition games before the official puck drop on August 1. 2:01

There was virtually no contact in the only exhibition contest for the two teams until Toronto defense Jake Muzzin hit Montreal winger Alex Belzile early in the second.

The offensively loaded Leafs looked disjointed much of the night, but neither team was helped by sloppy icy conditions in Game 2 of the day in wet Toronto.

Montreal was practically buried as the 24th-ranked NHL team when the schedule was suspended 4 and a half months ago due to the virus, but received a lifeline when the league laid out a 24-hour restart plan. teams.

Toronto sat in a playoff berth, but because he was outside the top-4 in the conference, has to go through Columbus to make the usual 16-club playoff group.

“I thought we gave up the neutral zone a little too easily at times,” said Keefe, who focused heavily on defensive structure during training camp. “But I like the way we work. “

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