In the Habs’ Room: Kotkaniemi saves the day, but bows to Carey Price

“Without him, we wouldn’t be here now,” Jesperi Kotkaniemi said. “I think everyone can see he’s carrying our team and making the big save every time.”

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Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored the biggest goal of his career, but the Canadiens will be battling the Maple Leafs on Monday for a spot in the North Division final because Carey Price did what he does best.

Price made 13 saves of his 41 saves in overtime Saturday as Montreal defeated Toronto 3-2 to deadlock the  best-of-seven division semifinal 3-3.

“Without him, we wouldn’t be here now,” Kotkaniemi said. “He saved my ass more than once today, so I’m thankful. I think everyone can see he’s carrying our team and making the big save every time.”

“I thought Price played unbelievable and gave us a chance, especially in the overtime, (when) they were pushing,” said captain Shea Weber.

It was the seventh consecutive loss for the  Leafs in a series-clinching game, but Weber wouldn’t speculate about whether Montreal had created some doubt among the Leafs.

“We’re not really thinking about that,” Weber said. “We’re thinking about giving ourselves a chance to win the series.”

Weber said the Canadiens received a boost from the 2,500 fans in attendance at the Bell Centre. They were the first spectators in a Canadian NHL rink in 444 days.

“We could hear them before the game and, going out for warmup, we had chills again,” Weber said. “It was unbelievable. It felt like a lot more than 2,500 people, it was amazing. I can’t  imagine what 20,000 people would be like  because that was electric.”

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Coach Dominique Ducharme said he felt his team played enough to win this game in regulation.

“For the first three periods, I don’t think we had too many lows,” Ducharme said. “I thought we had good offensive zone time, really good chances in the first period when we could have had two or three goals. We were really dynamic.”

Ducharme said he was pleased the Canadiens held their own in the second period because that’s when things fell apart for the Canadiens in Games 2, 3 and 4.

Corey Perry and Tyler Toffoli produced Montreal’s first two power-play goals of the series and Ducharme noted the two goals the Leafs scored to tie the game were both the result of unlucky bounces. The first was deflected off Jeff Petry’s stick and the second changed direction after hitting Petry’s skate.

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Phil Danault’s line did another good job keeping Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in check. This was the fourth time in six games that Marner has failed to earn a point.

The game represented a breakthrough for rookie Jake Evans, who missed four games after suffering an injury in Game 1. He replaced Tomas Tatar on the line with Danault and Brendan Gallagher and turned in a strong two-way effort. Evans was on the ice for 23:05 and the only forward with more ice time was Danault at 23:56.

When asked why he had confidence in Evans, who was a seventh-round pick before heading to a successful U.S. college career at Notre Dame, Ducharme said: “The way he skates, the way he battles in situations. He plays hard. He can do a little of everything. We’re not just trying to play defence. You need some offensive zone time, force (the Leafs) to play defence and that line had some good moments, forcing them to defend.”

Speaking of defence, Ducharme shortened his bench and went with his top four defencemen for most of the game and they played monster minutes.

Weber led the way wth 37:07 of ice time, followed by Ben Chiarot (35:20), Petry (34:51) and Joel Edmundson (28:30).

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