Tonight’s game started like far too many for the Montreal Canadiens recently. Behind 1-0 in the first period and having to battle their way back to stay alive in the race for the Northeast Division title. More often than not over the last two weeks, Montreal would let the 1-0 deficit become 2-0 before finding the back of the opponent’s net but that would not be the case against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs.
A big hit on Leaf forward Mikhail Grabovski by the recently recalled, not so gentle giant, Jarred Tinordi in the defending zone led to a turnover which began a 3 on 2 break for the Habs. A slick pass by Brendan Gallagher at the Leafs blueline led to a Lars Eller chance in tight that Lars capitalized on to knot things up and the Canadiens would not look back.
The second period would be the most dominant period of hockey Montreal has played this season. An unbelievable 11 to 1 advantage in shots, even though they were shorthanded three times, and two big goals from Andrei Markov and Gallagher led to a 3-1 lead heading into the final stanza.
Tomas Plekanec would put the final nail in the Leafs coffin early in the third period with a soft wrister off the rush that beat Toronto goaltender James Reimer, ending his regular season early as Ben Scrivens would take over for the rest of the contest. Montreal would put it in cruise control and backup goalie Peter Budaj would be tested on a few occasions through the third period but the game was all but over after Plekanec made it 4-1.
Toronto would try to respond with rough play to intimidate the Habs but it would lead to more power play opportunities for Montreal and not much else as the Leafs could not close the 3 goal gap. The Leafs were able to get more pucks at the Habs net but with few scoring chances generated, would finish the game behind 4-1.
The Canadiens finish the regular season with 63 points over the 48 game schedule and now await the result of the Boston Bruins game tomorrow evening against the Ottawa Senators to learn who they will face in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With a Senators win tomorrow, Montreal will capture the Northeast Division crown and face those Senators in the first round as the second seed in the Eastern Conference. However, if the Bruins come away with two points in their regular season finale, they win the division, dropping Montreal to fourth in the East, in which case Montreal will face the Toronto Maple Leafs to begin the chase for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Whether it be against the Leafs or Sens, Montreal will open the playoffs at the Bell Centre as Montreal’s season has afforded them home ice in the first round, an accomplishment nearly impossible to foresee at the outset of the season. From the bottom of the East one season to hosting the first game of the playoffs the next is a great achievement for this Habs squad.
They have been surprising us Habs fans all season and with the playoffs set to begin, we can only hope the surprises keep coming.