John Tavares Scores Game Winner, Leafs Defeat Canadiens in OT Thriller
BarnBurner Sports Writer
Saturday, February 9, 2019
Montreal— John Tavares was the hero for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night following a great back-and-forth game that needed 3-on-3 overtime to determine a winner. The Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens added another chapter in their long-standing rivalry at the Bell Centre in Montreal and didn't disappoint.
Tavares scored his 33rd of the season following a pass from Mitch Marner that provided a clear path to the net and allowed him to beat Carey Price glove-side with a backhand shot that went into the top-corner. In his post-game interview, Tavares mentioned that the Bell Centre is a special place to play especially with the long-standing history between the two Canadian teams and that the game lived up to the hype.
“Regardless, I think what team you’re a part of... had some good ones here with the Islanders but certainly this rivalry…history between the two teams…really foundational franchises of the NHL and great to be a part of it especially on a Saturday night and nice to get a big win.”
The two original six franchises are currently battling for position in a strong Atlantic division that also features the first-place Tampa Bay Lighting and Boston Bruins. It’s interesting to note that if the playoffs began today, Montreal and Toronto would be playing each other in the first round, which makes this game even more meaningful because every point is crucial in determining who gets home-ice advantage.
The Montreal Canadiens didn’t waste any time getting on the score sheet as Jeff Petry deflected a shot from Max Domi to give his team the lead 51-seconds into the first period and got fans in the Bell Centre on their feet.
Even though the Leafs gave up a goal in the first minute, they would maintain the same upbeat tempo of play and push the pace offensively. Shortly after, the Leafs tied the game on their first shot after Zach Hyman set up Andreas Johnsson for his 14th goal of the season following a wraparound that caused the Canadiens to lose their positioning.
Johnsson has had an excellent week; he recorded two goals and two assists in the Leafs’ 6-1 win over the Anaheim Duck on Tuesday and one goal in the Leafs’ 5-4 overtime win over the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday. The 24-year-old is an RFA at the end of the season and has really shown signs of being the highly touted offensive winger when he made the jump from the Marlies last season. Johnsson’s impressive play comes at an interesting time because he could be a player that other NHL GMs inquire about in potential trade deadline transactions if the Leafs want to improve their roster.
The Leafs weren’t done there; Nikita Zaitsev scored his second goal of the season at 4:42 after his wrist shot got through the Canadiens’ defense, to put his team in front with the 2-1 lead.
Like the first period, the Canadiens scored early to tie the game up 2-2, when Tomas Tatar pushed the puck up into the Leafs zone and shot a floater past Frederick Andersen, which was a goal he’d likely want a do-over on. Canadiens goalie Carey Price and defenceman Shea Weber both recorded an assist on the goal. Tatar has had a great bounce back year in Montreal this season; he currently has 17-goals and 23-assists for a total of 40-points in 55-games, which is six more points than he had in 82-games last season.
The Leafs caught a break in the 3rd period after Max Domi put the puck in the Leafs net off a rebound however the goal was immediately waved off by the referee due to a high stick.
Montreal would get that play back when Brendan Gallagher scored his 22nd goal on the powerplay following a pass from Max Domi off the rush. At first it looked as though the Leafs were going to catch another break due to the net being off however, the referee stated it was an unreviewable play and that the goal counted.
Once again, the Canadiens’ lead was short-lived as Maple Leafs forward William Nylander pushed the puck in Montreal’s zone and scored a perfectly placed wrist-shot past Carey Price, tying the game 3-3. Nylander hasn’t performed as well since he signed the lucrative $6.9M/6-year contract extension back in December but tonight’s game was a good sign that he may’ve finally found his groove offensively, which could be a much-needed spark for the Leafs heading into the final stretch of the season.
With the win, the Maple Leafs improve their winning streak to four-games and provide themselves a bit of a cushion from the Canadiens and Bruins in the Atlantic division. The Maple Leafs are back in action tomorrow night against the New York Rangers in the second night of a back-to-back.
MTL Petry (0:51, 1st Period)
TOR Johnsson (2:20, 1st Period)
TOR Zaitsev (4:40, 1st Period)
MTL Tatar (1:13, 2nd Period)
MTL Gallagher (7:24, 3rd Period)
TOR Nylander (8:35, 3rd Period)
TOR Tavares (2:17, OT)
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Photo Credit: Toronto Maple Leafs