MONTREAL — Ryan Poehling delivered one of the most impressive NHL debuts in Canadiens history on Saturday, giving Montreal fans plenty to cheer about after a major downer the previous night.
The 20-year-old notched a hat trick and then added the shootout winner to lead the Canadiens to a 6-5 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the season finale for both teams, which came one day after Montreal was eliminated from playoff contention.
Poehling, Montreal’s first pick (25th overall) in the 2017 draft, became the third Canadiens player in franchise history to score at least three goals in his NHL debut. He’s the first to do it since Alex Smart in 1943. Joe Malone scored five goals in the inaugural game of the newly formed NHL in 1917.
"Surreal moment for myself," said Poehling, who signed a three-year entry-level deal last Sunday. "It feels like a dream. I don’t know what to say. Honestly, I’m just in shock right now."
With his parents and three brothers watching from the stands, Poehling’s late third-period equalizer sent the game to overtime. In the shootout, after John Tavares failed to win it for Toronto, the Bell Centre crowd erupted when Poehling stepped onto the ice.
"Probably one of the most special moments of my life so far," said the American-born Poehling, who recently completed his third NCAA season at St. Cloud State. "You get that feeling right away at the Bell Centre and that was a great welcoming for myself."
Poehling beat Frederik Andersen glove side in the shootout and goalie Charlie Lindgren, in his first game of the season, stopped Kasperi Kapanen to finish it.
"It was all joy on the bench," said Montreal’s Andrew Shaw, who scored his 19th of the year. "We’re all happy for him, smiling. When you see a kid coming like that, honestly can’t believe it. He had a couple other opportunities as well, finished his checks. He played hard. He deserves it. He’s going to be a great player.
"It’s a game for the history books."
With the Canadiens down 2-0 early, Poehling scored his first NHL goal on his fourth career shift at 11:41 by going hard to the net and ramming the puck past Andersen.
The native of Lakeville, Minn., netted his second of the game to make it 2-2, an easy tap-in at 2:56 of the second period.
The Maple Leafs were leading 5-4 when Poehling completed his hat trick with 2:31 left on the clock.
"I read the scouting report, it never said he was going to get four on "Hockey Night in Canada" in the Forum," said Leafs coach Mike Babcock. "I don’t know how many guys have ever done that. Good for him, good start."
It all came too late for the Canadiens (44-30-8), who finished the season with 96 points and will miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2001. The Canadiens were eliminated when the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the New York Rangers in a shootout on Friday.
The Maple Leafs (46-28-8) will face the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs next week.
Lindgren and Andersen both stopped 44-of-49 shots.
Zach Hyman’s no-look shot went off Shea Weber’s skate and in at 5:50 of the first period before Jake Gardiner’s shot from the point deflected past Lindgren at 8:03.
After Poehling tied it, Montreal grabbed the lead when Jordan Weal scored a power-play goal at 7:04 of the second.
The visitors tied it less than two minutes later on Trevor Moore’s second of the season on a partial breakaway.
Shaw gave the Canadiens a 4-3 lead before William Nylander made it 4-4 at 17:33 of the second on a wraparound.
With 11:56 left to play in a 4-4 game, Kapanen broke the deadlock with a shot from the slot.
With an eye on the playoffs, Toronto rested four of its top defencemen: Ron Hainsey, Jake Muzzin, Nikita Zaitsev and Travis Dermott.
"For us, it’s just making sure we’re doing the work every day, coming ready to play," said Leafs forward Mitch Marner, looking ahead to Boston. "It’s not going to be an easy task this team we’re playing. You can’t give up many chances. They have a lot of offence that team. We have to get it behind them and play down low."
NOTES: Legendary broadcaster Bob Cole called his final game after a 50-year career. â€¦ Canadiens defenceman Paul Byron was out with a wrist injury. â€¦ The Canadiens will clean out their lockers on Tuesday.