March 01 2014 08:22PM
It's a matchup that never gets old. Once about being the face of English
Canada vs. the face of French Canada, the Leafs and Habs rivalry is
still about two powerhouse organizations. Tons of money. Tons of fans.
Tons of history. Two pretty good teams, as well. It's always a fun night
to watch, and it was going to get even better with a Sochi Semifinal
rematch. James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel vs Carey... what? Peter
Budaj started? Whatever. It's still a rivalry game with lots of points
implications, and it landed in the favour of the Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge, by a score of 4-3.
The game started with an early Leafs penalty kill, as Dion Phaneuf took a lazy tripping call. It didn't turn into a goal, but the Habs had consistent control of the game, not even giving up a non-wide shot for the first 11 minutes of the game. Eventually, the Leafs' perpetual penalty kill strategy came to haunt them, as Alex Galchenyuk spun around, used Morgan Rielly as a screen, and fired a wrist shot past Jonathan Bernier to open the scoring. Just a minute and a half afterwards, the process was repeated, with Peter Holland playing screen and Max Pacioretty playing shooter. The Leafs started to build up some quality pressure and scoring chances in the following minutes, however, with Joffrey Lupul hitting the post on a strong takeaway and James van Riemsdyk tipping in a Phil Kessel shot to keep Toronto in the game after twenty.
The second period was largely uneventful for the bulk of the time. Toronto earned themselves an early powerplay courtesy of a David Desharnais trip, but it didn't really turn into anything. Toronto closed up the shot differential a bit, Montreal opened it back up, and time was largely just spent being existent.
A Leafs powerplay was the opening statement of the third period, though nothing came out of it that could translate to the score sheet. An ingenious between-the-legs pass by van Riemsdyk turned into a gimme one timer for Kessel, but Peter Budaj jumped in just in time to make the save. Both soon got chances at redemption, though, and capitalized. Van Riemsdyk's effort was a shorthanded breakaway where he went backhand and beat Budaj, and Kessel's was another one of his perfect wrist shots, bringing them to 26 and 33 goals on the year respectively. The lead didn't last all that long though, as PK Subban fired one of his trademark slapshots past Bernier to tie the game back up. A puck-over-glass whoopsie by The Phil gave the Habs a strong opportunity to end the game in regulation, but they ran out of time.
In overtime, both teams traded scoring chances, with two of the best coming to Montreal's Daniel Briere on partial breaks. though in both cases he was unsuccessful. He did indirectly draw a penalty though, as his second break saw Bernier smother the puck while sliding into the hashmarks. Just seconds later, Pacioretty potted his second of the night to give his team the win.
Why The Leafs Lost
On one hand, I could point fingers at Jonathan Bernier's overtime mistake. He really should have gotten rid of the puck after getting it from Briere, though 20/20 hindsight is at play here. Maybe he didn't see anybody, but that's still a cut and dry penalty that lead to the winning goal.
On the other hand, the Leafs bled shots against (what else is new) tonight and the Habs controlled the ice for large chunks of the game, so maybe it's a bit much to point fingers at him.
On the third hand that I've grown for some reason, an 0.866 performance isn't exactly mind-blowing. You know what? Bernier has been great for the Leafs this year, but since "getting outshot" is a boring trope, I'll say that this wasn't his best night and that a standard performance would have won the Leafs the game.
Can I give it to two people? I'm going to give it to two people. Unsurprisingly, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk are the best forwards on this team, and showed that off tonight. Their ability to change a game in a heartbeat is something that we're going to look back at in a couple of years and regret not appreciating as much. Kessel's snapshot? Even more under appreciated. It may be the most technically and utterly perfect version of the shot in the history of this league, and that's saying a lot. A stellar night for them both and the only reasons this game was even close.