Despite losing 14 of the last 21 games, including each of the last five of the regular season, Ducharme said earlier Thursday that he felt the Canadians were ready to face the North Division champions, only a week later. training before this series. had prepared them, and he was sure they would assert their style.
“We are very confident as we approach the series,” said Ducharme. “We expect our four lines to use their strengths and contribute. Defensively, I think our defenders will be difficult to face. We will start like this.
That’s how the Canadiens ended up too, and their arms in the air after an effort by the whole team helped them get the Maple Leafs back on their heels.
This one had a bit of everything, with both teams combining for three goals, 66 shots, 107 attempts and 81 hits. Every square inch of ice was hotly contested, every race was close and the margin for error was as slim as it gets. It features everything you love to see in a playoff game, but also something you never want to see in any game.
It was just over halfway through the first period when Ben Chiarot stepped into the neutral zone and knocked out Maple Leafs captain John Tavares. Tavares was sent off the ice and headed for Canadiens forward Corey Perry, who, in an attempt to free himself, jumped up and grabbed Tavares’ head with his knee, slicing and knocking him out.
“I don’t know what else to do there,” Perry said afterward. “I tried to jump. I know Johnny pretty well and just hope he’s okay. “
There was no one in the building, nor anyone watching the game anywhere, who was not grateful to see Tavares raise his thumb to signal he was fine as he was stretched out of the ice and just before being taken nearby. Toronto Hospital. The scene that ensued immediately after the collision, with a shaken Tavares trying to get back on his feet while a trainer tried (and failed) to stabilize his head and neck was beyond appalling.
Canadiens medics and coaches rushed to help Toronto medical staff secure Tavares to the backboard as players and coaches from both teams appeared to wear expressions of shock and horror on their faces.
“I just saw John come down,” said Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, who was watching from about 50 feet away. “I was pretty disheartened to see this happen to such a great guy. It was a pretty disappointing reminder that hockey is just a game, and obviously I hope it goes well.
Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe updated in his post-game comments that Tavares was conscious and communicating well and would be kept in hospital overnight and only released once that tests have shown it to be “clear”.
Nick Foligno, who fought Perry immediately after play resumed, later said he didn’t think Tavares’ injury was anything but an accident. He also spoke about the impact of the whole situation on the Maple Leafs and how difficult it is for them to regain their composure immediately afterwards.
“It’s difficult,” he said. “Just the human side. John probably understands that, and I think that’s just part of the game unfortunately, but he would like us to go on and try to win. And that’s the unfortunate part; we didn’t win him a win tonight, and that’s the part that stings the most.
This is the part in which Canadians had their say.
They came out of the gate charging, scoring 28 hits in the first quarter and the all-important first goal, which came two minutes and nine seconds after Tavares left the ice and play resumed.
Josh Anderson of Burlington, Ont., Scored him, passing the Toronto defense, clocking over 41 miles an hour before landing a shot in the middle of the right post and beating the goalkeeper Jack Campbell.
The Maple Leafs hit back in the second period with a fifth-minute goal from William Nylander, but Canadiens goaltender Carey Price turned down his other seven efforts in the frame.
This was after making 14 saves in the first period and before stopping another 14 in the third – including a tackle stoppage on a 2-on-1 attempt by Mitch Marner.
“We still believe in this guy,” said Paul Byron, who worked his way down shorthanded and scored the winner on his knees with 7:16 left in the third period, to Sportsnet’s Kyle Bukauskas. “He is incredible. Every day in practice he is so competitive. We always trust him, we know he can steal a game anytime, and he has been amazing tonight. He made a huge, huge saving on Marner and many others.
“He’s our best player, and he really came for us tonight.
Price was not alone. Almost every Habs player has been effective in this one, from their best to those who were least effective during the regular season. If Price and Anderson were at the top of the list, Eric Staal was right next to them.
He bore the brunt of so much criticism after following a dismal first half with the Buffalo Sabers with just two goals and three points and a minus-10 rating in 21 games with the Habs. They had given up on intermediate picks in the 2021 draft to acquire Staal’s winning pedigree, investing in his Hall of Fame-worthy career despite what little evidence he still had in him playing half as effectively as he was. had been doing it throughout his career, and it looked like a total reading error until he stepped on the ice for this game.
Staal came out after establishing Anderson’s goal and landing two shots and three hits and winning 50% of his faceoffs. He was a consistent presence in goal and one of the few shining points on a power play that stuttered and was stopped on five attempts.
“The playoffs are a different atmosphere and a different game,” said Anderson before developing Staal, a member of the exclusive Triple Gold hockey club. “He’s been through it all, so he’s a great leader in the room, and you knew the presence he was going to bring tonight and the character he has. I don’t think anyone was surprised by the way he played. I thought he was solid in both areas of the game tonight and we need him to move forward.
Canadians got something similar from everyone on their side.
“It was a real playoff game,” said Ducharme. “I said we were ready, and we were.
He saw the evidence in the way his defense boxed the most dangerous parts of the ice, in the way all of his players took care of the little details and came together as a team, and he felt that Price had helped. Canadians to remove those waves from the Maple Leafs. when they came crashing down.
“I thought we were pretty consistent on both sides,” he said. “And that’s the type of game we want to play.”
This is the kind of game the Canadiens will have to play again next Saturday, with the second game on the horizon.