About Last Night: Can I get 2,500 witnesses? Habs force Game 7


Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored the winner in overtime.

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The Montreal Canadiens have pushed the Toronto Maple Leafs to the edge. The two teams will face off in Game 7 of their first-round best-of-seven series Monday after the Habs defeated the Leafs 3-2 in overtime Saturday night. Beyond the scoresheet, including Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s game winner and Carey Price’s 41 saves, Game 6 will likely be remembered as the first NHL game to be played in front of a live audience in Canada since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Seeing 2,500 hockey fans at the Bell Centre again was a moment that transcended sport:

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The crowd sang O Canada with Bell Centre organist Diane Bibaud and announcer Michel Lacroix welcomed everyone back.

The first period was scoreless, but an important reminder of the difference a live, interactive crowd can have. They welcomed Game 4 hero/Game 5 goat Alex Galchenyuk with boos befitting a former Hab in another sweater. The referees had their decisions second guessed all night, especially the non-calls. Not that extra penalties would have done either team any good early on: the Leafs and Habs didn’t score on their respective first period power plays. Tyler Toffoli took the butt end of Nick Suzuki’s stick and left to the dressing room for repairs, but returned for the second. The Habs outshot the Leafs 15-9 in the first and had more chances, although Price still had to be sharp on occasion, stopping a difficult deflection off a Mitch Marner shot.

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An unlikely first period highlight? Erik Gustafsson hit Wayne Simmonds. Kinda.

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Second period was also scoreless. Tyler Toffoli held and shot on a 3-on-1, with Jack Campbell making the save. The Leafs were dealt a major blow to their blueline when Jake Muzzin left the game with a lower body injury and didn’t return. Both teams played shorthanded at the back end, one by necessity and one by choice: Habs third pairing Gustafsson and Brett Kulak barely saw the ice all game. Eric Staal then missed a golden open net opportunity from a pass by Jeff Petry.

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In the third period, the Canadiens power play, shut out in the series up until that point, finally came to life. With William Nylander in the box for backing into Price with intent, Cole Caufield got partial contact on a one-timer attempt, but it was enough to cause a chaotic scene in the crease where Corey Perry leaped on the rebound and fired it on an empty net with Campbell out of place. Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe challenged the call, claiming Tyler Toffoli was in the crease impeding Campbell from returning to position, but the goal stood, giving the Habs a 1-0 lead. It also sent the Habs to another power play.

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Seconds into that power play, Marner flipped the puck over the glass without being contested, which gave the Habs a 5-on-3 advantage. The snake-bitten Toffoli scored his first of the series, getting into scoring position and receiving a pass from Nick Suzuki along the half wall to make it 2-0.

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The Canadiens held on past the halfway mark of the third period, but the Maple Leafs eventually stormed back. Jason Spezza put his team on the board first, beating Price from the slot area after Joel Edmundson failed to clear.

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The Maple Leafs continued to wear down the four Habs defencemen as the third period progressed. T.J. Brodie tied it up for his squad, after his hard slap shot deflected off Jeff Petry and past Price.

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Like in Game 5, the Habs had once again squandered a lead late. Game 6 would also be decided in overtime. Habs fans in the arena were reeling.

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Overtime was the Carey Price show. His four defencemen were running on fumes (Shea Weber led the way with 37:09), hanging on for dear life to prevent high-quality scoring chances but struggling to clear the zone. Price had to make 13 saves in overtime, compared to one for Campbell at the other end. It was as lopsided as can be, but the Leafs simply couldn’t score on Price. All it took was one chance at the other end for the Canadiens to end the game. With five minutes remaining in the extra frame, Paul Byron stole the puck from Travis Dermott and fed it to a streaking Kotkaniemi, who used Zach Bogosian as a screen to fire a shot past Campbell. The Habs fans lucky enough to attend went home happy.

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The Montreal Canadiens have pulled themselves from the brink of elimination. The Habs and Leafs will meet one more time Monday for all the marbles. For the Habs, they went to the limit against the North Division’s top team in the regular season. For the Leafs, they’re in danger of another first round defeat after entering the season with Stanley Cup aspirations. But what I’ll remember the most, and likely never forget, were the people. After 14 months, 2,500 got to see a Habs game in the flesh. After all this time, that’s pretty cool. The Liveblog commenters happily ate crow in the form of Price saving the day.

3. “The curse is now on TO mind…has to be…2 games to close it twice to tie it twice to lose it in OT….its got to be in their minds” -Michael Wered

2. “CAREY PRICE. No doubt, the best goalie in the world right now. How he turns into a monster in the playoffs, I have no idea. But I’m happy to have him make me EAT MY WORDS.” -Marc Taillefer

1. “Our best player 10.5 million played like our best player. Toronto’s did not. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Price was amazing. Bergevin’s Perry, Toffoli additions paid off and KK says to all the doubters/ Haters …This one is for you!!!!” -Charles Patrick

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