Maple Leafs hold edge in play but lose to Canadiens on a couple of late goals

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A night after they were eliminated from playoff contention, the Montreal Canadiens remained buried in the Maple Leafs’ psyche.

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Despite being outshot by the Leafs 51-18 at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens, who rallied to stun to Toronto in the first round of the playoffs last spring, managed to beat their rivals 4-2.

Paul Byron scored the winner at 17:32 of the third period. He took the puck from Auston Matthews in the Montreal end after the two clipped skates and skated the length of the ice, electing to keep the puck on a three-on-one rush, beating goalie Erik Kallgren between the legs. Christian Dvorak then scored into an empty Toronto net, giving the Canadiens two wins in three games over the Leafs this season and five of six going back to the playoffs.

In all situations, the Leafs had 77 shot attempts. The Canadians had 36.
The 51 shots on goal were the second-most the Leafs have had in a game this season. On Feb. 12, they had 53 against the Vancouver Canucks and also lost.

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“We played really well,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said of the effort in Montreal. “I’ll take that game 82 times.

“Not all the shots we got were of high quality. There was a lot of perimeter stuff. But we had more than enough chances to score, more than we did. We didn’t get much luck. We didn’t score enough to pull away. We let them hang around.”

Still, despite Keefe’s good feelings about his team, a loss is a loss, and Toronto’s inability to solve goalie Jake Allen more than twice cost the club in the Atlantic Division standings.

Let’s be honest. The Leafs shouldn’t be losing to the Canadiens.

Toronto fell to a wild-card spot in the East after Tampa Bay and Boston won on Saturday, and headed home to face the Florida Panthers, the leaders in the Atlantic, for a rare Sunday night game at Scotiabank Arena. The Panthers won in a shootout in Ottawa on Saturday.

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With Petr Mrazek slated to start in goal, the Leafs will look to improve on a 4-4-1 record in the second game of back-to-back sets.

William Nylander scored a power-play goal at 7:33 of the third, making the game 2-2 when he slipped the puck past Allen from the edge of the crease.
Moments later, Kallgren stretched across his crease to deny David Savard’s backhand.

Matthews scored his 47th goal in the opening minute of the game, marking his career high set in 2019-20. The goal, at 36 seconds, was the result of hustle on the forecheck by Mitch Marner and Michael Bunting. The latter put the puck on Matthews’ tape, and it was 1-0 when Allen couldn’t handle the quick release on the one-timer.

Marner’s assist brought him to 70 points for the second time in his NHL career; Bunting’s assist was his 50th point of the season.

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Keefe’s positive vibes for his team didn’t extend to Nylander individually.

The Canadiens’ first goal of the night, by Savard at 9:44 of the second, came after Nylander was slow on the backcheck.

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“I had a mistake, didn’t backcheck all the way, that’s a big factor,” said Nylander, who was a minus-2 for the night. “I have to be there to stop that.”

Not long after that, Keefe dropped Nylander to the third line and moved Ilya Mikheyev up.

The second line with John Tavares between Nylander and Alex Kerfoot has been in an offensive rut for a while.

“That’s a tough one to give up,” Keefe said of the Savard goal. “That was the third or fourth play like that for Will, and that’s why I thought it was time. Things have been piling up for that line for a while. (The change) was overdue.

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“I don’t need to pile on Will here. He knows what makes him great, and he knows what he needs to get back to.”

The Canadiens took their first lead on a power play at 18:08 of the second when Cole Caufield was fed by Chris Wideman and went bar-down on Kallgren.

Now, Keefe and the rest of the Leafs will hope that Mrazek, on Sunday, can build off a win on Wednesday against New Jersey.

“Mrazek is coming off what was his best start of the season, in terms of how he competed, how he played in the net and how confident he looked,” Keefe said. “If (Friday)’s practice for Jack Campbell is any indication, he is going to come back strong (from a rib injury) and he is not far away from being back.

“I believe we are on the right side of our goaltending situation in terms of finding traction. When we defend well as a team, it sets our goals up for success.”

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