Canadiens slow-sizzle Maple Leafs
No one will ever know what was said between periods in the Canadiens' dressing room but clearly, they were a different team when they came out in the third. The Habs were hungrier, more willing to pay the price, both along the boards and in front of the Leaf's net. Simply said, they were outworking the Leafs.
Conversely, the Buds looked flat, frankly mildly exhausted. This was not a back-to-back for Toronto (Montreal was however playing their third in four nights) and you would have thought the younger Maple Leafs would have had the fresher legs.
So what happened? Clearly, someone stood up in the room in between periods. Kirk Muller perhaps? Price? Weber? But its unlikely this was the main reason explaining their dominance of the final period.
To get a better understanding, I think one has to look at the number of hits. And in that department, the Canadiens had hands down the upper hand in the first two periods (something like 36-9 after two). They were hitting everything in sight. And the players hitting were the Habs' big boys: Anderson, Weber, Edmundson, Chiarot, Romanov were taking the body regularly. The Leafs, on the other hand, who are undoubtedly the more top-heavy team, were doing what they do regularly. Giving tons of ice time to the Marners, Mathews, Tavares, Reillys and company. Something had to give.
The Canadiens seemed content to just hang with Toronto in the first half of the game. To rely on good (well perhaps not this year or last), old Carey Price. But this is a far more bruising team than years past. It felt as if they were slow-cooking the Leafs like a pig roast, tenderizing them like a good AAA cut of meat, only to have them primed and ready for the Bar BQ in the third period.
The question is can this winning recipe be a rinse-and-repeat strategy in future matchups versus the more talented Buds? I think it can, perhaps in the playoffs. You would think the fact Toronto has a tendency to overuse its star players, that Montreal can roll four lines and are capable of punishing teams physically, that all this would prove to be a significant edge in a long series?
However one should not forget the fortuitous bounces that went the Canadiens way in the first and second periods. Mathews, Tavares, both had glorious chances to pad Toronto's lead on more than one occasion. Chances they seldom miss. The refs also seemed to have kept the whistles in their pockets in this one. Its highly likely that had the Maple Leafs been given a couple more power plays, the game would have been out of reach by the third.
Either way, a win is a win, and the Canadiens now have something to build on. But this game should not be used as a template for future matchups. And the Canadiens will have to be ready to play at the opening puck drop if they wish to begin another winning streak.