MONTREAL -- Jack Campbell stood in his crease and watched Carey Price make save after save through 40 minutes.
Toronto's goalie stayed focused and returned the favour _ especially late _ in a frantic final period to secure a precious victory.
Campbell made 28 saves, including all 15 shots he faced in the third, as the Maple Leafs hung on to beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 and take a 2-1 lead in their first-round playoff series Monday.
"All the credit in the world has to go to Jack Campbell," said Toronto defenceman Morgan Rielly, who solved Price on the winner in the second period. "He was an absolute warrior for us.
"Down the home stretch he was outstanding. He's been there for us all year and tonight was no different. He's an absolute stud."
Campbell has allowed four goals and owns a .951 save percentage through nine periods in the series, and was under siege late as the Canadiens desperately pressed for an equalizer.
"They're coming at us real hard," Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. "I'd like to see us relax and make a few more plays so we can settle the game down. But it's a very important game, it's a very important period.
"Our guys battled hard, and of course our goalie was our best player."
William Nylander, with his third goal in as many games, also scored for Toronto, which hasn't won a post-season series since 2004, but will look to go up 3-1 in this physical Original Six showdown in Game 4 back at the Bell Centre on Tuesday.
"A great win by the boys," said bruising Leafs winger Wayne Simmonds. "We grinded it out. We could have played a little bit better. (Campbell) was the No. 1 star.
"He was unbelievable. We owe this to him."
Nick Suzuki replied for Montreal, which has struggled to generate offence in the series, including an 0-for-9 showing on the power play.
"I'm not frustrated at all," Price, who finished with 27 saves, said of his team's meagre attack. "I believe in these guys.
"They're trying. It's gonna come."
It better soon or Montreal will be facing elimination in Toronto on Thursday night.
Price's best save of Game 3 -- one that will be replayed over and over -- was a terrific diving effort with his stick on a double-clutching Jason Spezza at the tail end of a Toronto power play in the first period.
"Desperation," Price said. "(That's) what it comes down to."
First in the Canadian-based North Division during the NHL's pandemic-shortened campaign, 18 points clear of Montreal, the Leafs remained without captain John Tavares, who's expected to miss at least two weeks with a concussion and knee injury suffered on a frightening Game 1 collision.
Nick Foligno wasn't on the ice for the morning skate -- Keefe emphatically declared him fit to play -- and took the warmup, but missed out with a lower-body injury. Riley Nash took his spot the lineup.
The Canadiens dressed rookie sniper Cole Caufield after generating just three goals in the first two games of the series in Toronto. The 20-year-old scored four times in 10 outings towards the end of the regular season, including one in overtime against the Leafs, following a dominant career with the U.S. National Team Development Program and two standouts seasons in the NCAA with the Wisconsin Badgers.
Toronto opened the scoring at 7:18 of the second when Alexander Kerfoot won an offensive zone faceoff back to Nylander, who fired quick shot that glanced off Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot and past Price.
"We love seeing Willy playing like this,'' Campbell said. "This is the Willy we know. He's a dominant player when he's on his game.
"He's such a special player.''
A lightning rod for criticism at various points of his career in Toronto because of an immense skill set and a work ethic that hasn't always followed suit, Nylander said the team's past post-season failures have fuelled him.
"You learn over the years,'' he said. "Every time you lose, it digs even harder. You want to battle.''
After Price denied Pierre Engvall on the doorstep on a long Toronto shift in the Canadiens' end, the home side started to find some life, and Suzuki eventually tied it at 13:56 when his shot off the rush beat Campbell under the blocker.
But Rielly restored the Leafs' advantage 2:39 later when he took a pass from Mitch Marner and fooled Price upstairs before celebrating with teammates inside the fan-less venue.
"It can be discouraging at times because you're getting chances and he's making great saves,'' Rielly said. "With our group we just have to stick with it, be a confident bunch.''
Coming off a three-point night in Game 2, Auston Matthews was denied by Price on the doorstep before Marner was also stopped as Toronto outshot Montreal 20-7 in the period.
"He was playing phenomenal for them and kept them in the game,'' Campbell said of Price. "He's done that all series. It's really fun to play a guy that has a great experience."
Caufield wired a shot over Campbell's net on a chance midway through the third, and the Leafs goaltender was there again on another sharp-angle effort off the winger's stick.
Campbell then stopped Josh Anderson, Tomas Tatar and Phillip Danault in quick succession as Montreal pushed desperately to tie.
Toronto defenceman Justin Holl then blocked a late Caufield chance in the dying seconds as the Leafs held on to take a 2-1 lead in the series.
"Montreal is tough, they're opportunistic, they have a lot of skill," Campbell said. "Our guys were doing a great job peppering Carey at the other end.
"We knew they'd push and they did, but thankfully everybody was battling."
Especially the man between the posts.
Notes: Candiens head coach Dominique Ducharme said Price will start Game 4. Keefe said he would wait until Tuesday to decide on his goalie, but that it depends on how Campbell is feeling. Montreal winger Eric Staal sat out with an undisclosed injury, which spared Tatar being healthy scratched. If there's a Game 6 on Saturday in Montreal, the Quebec government will permit 2,500 fans into the Bell Centre -- the first Canadian NHL crowd since the start of the pandemic.