Maple Leafs avoid another scare with more late heroics

The Montreal Canadiens jumped out the a three-goal lead but they weren’t able to hold on as the Toronto Maple Leafs rallied for the victory.

TORONTO – How much faith do you have in your capabilities under deadline?

How confident are you in what your skills can accomplish under a restricted time frame with thousands watching, judging, doubting?

The Toronto Maple Leafs are that university student who can procrastinate all semester, maybe skip a few lectures, with the assurance he can cram one all-nighter and whip up an A+ essay.

Sure, a full 60 is the ideal, but if you’re talented and lucky enough, sometimes a decent 40 can do the trick.

This was evidenced not so much by the Leafs’ six unanswered goals in response to their digging a sloppy 3-0 deficit to the Montreal Canadiens, but by their composure in doubling up their eldest rival and beating them seven times straight, something Toronto hasn’t done since Syl Apps was winning its faceoffs.

The lack of urgency for a Saturday night puck drop was confounding, considering Toronto’s recent swoon and the fact Montreal’s footsteps are now audible in the Atlantic Division standings.

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Montreal flew out the gates, drawing three stick infractions on a sluggish Toronto outfit. Andrew Shaw drove to the crease, tipped a puck and had enough time with some token defence by rookie Andreas Johnsson to whack at two rebounds before finding the back of the net.

Tomas Tatar breezed a puck past Frederik Andersen clean and high off a pretty feed from defenceman Jeff Petry, then Petry himself added a power-play marker when some messy P.K. coverage gave him more than enough time to plan his blast.

Coach Mike Babcock delivered a simple message to his bunch in the first intermission: “We’ve lost our composure. We can get it back. There’s lots of hockey. It’s Saturday night. It’s in our house. It’s guaranteed win night.”

Added Andersen, casually: “Forty minutes is a long time.”

William Nylander, even more nonchalant: “We don’t have to get too worried. We know what we can do.”

As has too often been the case this winter, the local team needed a wake-up call, a significant deficit to summon the desire equal to their opponents. Hard to imagine that cutting it in mid-April.

Consider the Maple Leafs’ total scores by period this season. The deeper she goes, the deeper they reach.

1st Period: 58-51
2nd Period: 73-61
3rd Period: 79-57

So many of their Picassos start off as finger paintings.

“It’s something we’ll have to improve on moving forward,” Tyler Ennis conceded. “Starts are so key. We’ll work on that, though.”

The Leafs, yielding the bulk of high-danger chances at even strength, leaned on their power play, twice, to begin the comeback in the second.

Auston Matthews victimized Carey Price yet again, sniping his 29th five-hole, going against the grain of history. (Matthews has a tradition of picked high, picked corners on the Habs’ all-world netminder and now has racked up 10 goals over 10 career meetings against Montreal.)

“He’s able to shoot it pretty much anywhere he wants. When you go high a lot, you can switch it up and go low and catch some goalies off balance,” Andersen said. “He did that in Vegas [against Marc-Andre Fleury] as well and again tonight. Pretty impressive.”

Matthews is pushing himself to become a chess master, plotting two or three moves ahead.

“They watch tape, they know your tendencies, so it’s important to switch it up,” the shooter explains. “See if you can maybe catch him guessing the wrong way. Nine times out of 10, he’s going to save that, but I was able to sneak it by him for a big goal for our team and kinda jump-start the comeback.”

Ennis piled on, notching his first since returning from a broken ankle when he finished off a brilliant passing sequence by Nylander and Patrick Marleau on the second power-play unit.

“A really good play by Willy [at the point],” Babcock observed. “Instead of carrying it down the flank, he just made a play very quickly that created space underneath for Marleau and Ennis to bury it.”

The final 20 brought a much-welcome batch of hiss and vinegar. Shea Weber engaged Matthews in a puck battle turned shoving match. (“Just fighting for possession. Just battling. That’s hockey,” Matthews said.) Max Domi rattled Johnsson’s helmet askew with an open-ice hit.

Then Lady Luck intervened, and she was wearing a blue dress.

A harmless-looking Marleau chip into the Habs’ zone took an impossible-to-predict bounce off the corner boards, catching Price behind the net, and Nylander shoveled in a gift, knotting the game at three. The building lit.

“We earned our bounces in the last two periods, and sometimes you get wins like that,” Andersen said. “We’ll take it.”

The worker bee, the local boy, Zach Hyman, scored the winner with just 110 seconds left on the clock by driving to the net and whacking home a loose puck driven from Mitch Marner.

“What a win for us—to end a losing streak, to come back like we did Saturday night against Montreal, it’s a good feeling,” Hyman said. “Both teams are playing for real. It’s a rivalry that’s been around forever, since the league started. You hate losing to a team like that, and they hate losing to us.”

Johnsson added an empty-netter, and Hyman was given a freebie when Weber threw him to the ice on an empty-cage breakaway.

Players cared enough to scream at officials and throw body checks and chirp the enemy’s bench even after the rally had been wrapped.

“It was fun. Yeah, a lot of fun,” Ennis smiled.

“It was one of those nights where you weren’t going to be denied.”


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