Leafs have one remaining opportunity to end past playoff failures

This series is headed to a deciding game Monday in Toronto following the Canadiens’ 3-2 OT win.

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Twice now the Toronto Maple Leafs have failed to put the Canadiens away in their North Division series.

Twice the team that finished first in the division fell behind, battled back, sent the game to overtime and ended up losing. And now, the questions will begin again for a team that has failed to win a playoff round since 2004 and has repeatedly squandered opportunities to end series over the years.

“We’ve been on the other end of the stick in these do or die games,” Leafs centre Auston Matthews said. “We obviously would like to rewrite that script. We have a great opportunity come Monday. We’ll be ready to go.”

This best-of-seven series is headed to a deciding game on Monday night at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena following the Canadiens’ 3-2 overtime victory Saturday night at the Bell Centre.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored the winning goal at 15:15 on only Montreal’s second shot of the extra session after Toronto overcame a two-goal deficit with third-period scores from Jason Spezza at 11:35 and defenceman T.J. Brodie at 16:49.


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While there’s no doubt the 2,500 spectators in attendance — the first time fans were permitted into the building since March 11, 2020 — provided the Canadiens with impetus to begin the game, it proved largely insignificant considering no goals were scored through two periods.

Instead, the Canadiens took a 2-0 lead in the third on goals within 1:17 from Corey Perry and Tyler Toffoli.

Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe challenged the opening score, believing Toffoli had interfered with goaltender Jack Campbell, impeding his ability to regain his position and leaving Perry with an open net.

The challenge was overturned, leading to an automatic minor penalty. Then, after Mitch Marner sent the puck into the crowd and received a delay-of-game minor, the visitors were two-men short for 1:41. Toffoli subsequently scored.


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Keefe admitted the challenge was a long shot. What he couldn’t have anticipated, of course, was the Marner penalty.

“We felt it was worthy of a challenge,” Keefe said. “There was some precedent there, with Toffoli standing in the crease. We thought, given what was happening in the game, the significance of the goal, we thought in the moment it was worthy of a challenge. We had the confidence in our penalty-kill if we needed to get it done, like it has all series.

“Obviously, it ended up being a 5-on-3.”

This was the second consecutive overtime loss for the Leafs when they appeared to have all the momentum heading into the extra session. The Canadiens have now won two straight after the Leafs captured consecutive games in Montreal. And, while the deciding game will be played in Toronto — without spectators — the Canadiens already have won twice there.


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“The games have gotten harder,” Keefe admitted. “Montreal has played better and we haven’t dealt with it well.”

While Matthews registered a team-high seven shots in slightly more than 30 minutes’ ice time, he had nothing to show for his efforts. The NHL leader this season with 41 goals, he has been held to one goal through six games, along with three assists, and hasn’t beaten Carey Price since the second game.

Matthews’ linemates, Marner and Zach Hyman, also have struggled. Marner has four assists; Hyman, one goal.

“I think we’ve done a lot of really good things,” Matthews said. “Maybe it hasn’t showed up in the scoresheet. Obviously, we’d like to see those pucks go in.”

Keefe was more succinct in discussing the line’s hardships. “I thought they worked really hard,” he said. “Obviously, they didn’t get enough done.”


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While the Leafs are a bruised and battered lot at this stage, the players to a man disputed the notion doubts, or a lack of confidence, are beginning to fester following two squandered opportunities to end the series.

“That last 10 minutes shows we don’t quit,” Campbell said. “We have adversity. It doesn’t matter who’s in or out of our lineup — we believe in each other. We have great leadership. We’ll be ready to go.

“The team’s disappointed for sure,” he added. “We played well enough to get it done. The (Canadiens) are a resilient team. They’re not going down easy.”

One thing’s certain: The Winnipeg Jets are enjoying every minute of this. The Jets will meet the winner, after sweeping Edmonton in the opening-round, and undoubtedly hope Monday’s game goes into overtime again.




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