“Cole Caufield intercepted a dangerous and misguided cross pass from Alex Galchenyuk in the Montreal zone and launched into a 2 on 0 with Suzuki…”
This is how the national press service of the Canadian Press defined the sequence of events that led to Nick Suzuki’s game-winning goal in Game 5, and if you ask the thousands of internet users who made that “Galchenyuk Has become a national trend on Twitter in the hours that would likely agree with this assessment.
But hockey is not tennis, and unforced errors are rarely truly unforced. Galchenyuk’s blunder was not only the product of his own actions, but the Habs’ fair reward for renewed confidence in their game.
To see why Galchenyuk places his pass on Caufield’s blade, you have to start at the very beginning of the streak. Morgan Rielly takes the puck behind his own net and advances without being worried in the neutral zone. Seeing three Montreal Canadiens lined up on the blue line, Rielly placed the puck in the Canadiens’ zone for Alexander Kerfoot to chase after. Kerfoot is first on the puck, beating Jeff Petry, but is forced to release it immediately as Suzuki approaches to close his lane.
The speed of this drop causes the puck to pass past William Nylander, who is not in position, to the opposite corner. Zach Bogosian is busy, as Toronto Maple Leafs defensemen often do, to keep the game alive, while Galchenyuk reads well and moves on to the vacant Bogosian.
So far, the Leafs are in a decent position.
However, two key moves by the Canadiens put Bogosian in a bad spot. First, although her man, Nylander, passed the net, Joel Edmundson did not call, instead staying in the corner. Second, Tyler Toffoli reads Bogosian’s pinch and aggressively attacks him.
Bogosian is now in trouble. He can’t just reduce the puck because it gives it to Edmundson, and he can’t pass to Nylander because Toffoli’s body makes it impossible to establish a proper passing position. It’s hard to tell from the video what Bogosian is actually trying to do when he returns the puck, if he’s trying to carry the puck through Toffoli’s control, or if he’s deliberately slapped it back. Either way, the puck is heading for the safety valve, Galchenyuk.
As he takes the disc, Galchenyuk has to hope that his position near the blue line will give him more time. After all, the Canadiens were in a 1-3-1 line-up in preparation, and the player closest to his current position is now signed with Bogosian. Unfortunately, this is not the case as Nick Suzuki followed the Leafs winger to the puck. Not only that, the Canadiens’ second year took an angle that cuts Galchenyuk’s accessibility to the lunge.
Stuck on his backhand with Suzuki on his heels, Galchenyuk has the following options:
- Try passing Suzuki’s backhand to Nylander at the front of the net – where the puck can easily bounce off a shin guard and cause a breakout
- Attempt to back down to Bogosian – where Toffoli waits to trigger an escape
- Abandon the game by bringing the puck back to the neutral zone.
- Throw a quick pass to the high defender to relieve the pressure.
- Hold the puck and engage Suzuki in a plank fight – where Suzuki pushing the puck off its stick could result in a spring breakout.
Some have suggested that Galchenyuk could have moved on to Kerfoot in the high lunge. However, Galchenyuk, not having looked back since the Bogosian-Toffoli engagement, is unaware of Kerfoot’s existence. Additionally, left shooter Kerfoot should pivot to shoot, giving Jeff Petry plenty of time to engage. Finally, it’s just not open when Galchenyuk goes to engage the puck. Kerfoot only appears to be open when the pass is made because Caufield leaves the lane as Galchenyuk turns.
Technically, number 3 is the safest game here, but it’s incredibly rare for an NHL player to voluntarily leave the offensive zone in a five-on-five situation.
As we know, Galchenyuk goes for # 4. He has a decent justification for it: The series (not to mention years as a Canadian) has shown him that the Canadiens like to crumble low and not put pressure on the high man in the offensive lineup. As he made his way to Bogosian’s post, Galchenyuk also visually confirmed Rielly’s availability.
What Galchenyuk doesn’t know is that Caufield, donning the One Ring, slipped to block that path. Also, seeing Suzuki’s angle of approach, Caufield prepared to skip that pass even before Galchenyuk hit the puck.
You know what happens next.
In chess, the objective is not necessarily to take your opponent’s pieces, but to force him to make the moves you have left him. Here, astute readers will notice that Nylander has actually been open in a dangerous location throughout the entire streak, but the Habs’ commitment to taking time and space left the Leafs with no chance to give him the puck. .
It was that same commitment – one absent for most of the first four games of this series – that created the winless situation for Galchenyuk, resulting in the game-winning goal. It is a commitment that the Canadians will have to redouble to resume the fight and the series in Toronto.