A first in almost fifteen months, fans piled into the Bell Centre on Saturday after Montreal eased up on restrictions to allow fan attendance. That resulted in 2,500 fans showing up for Game 6 to support the Habs, who in kind responded with a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In typical Toronto Maple Leaf fashion, it wasn’t until the third period before Toronto decided put up a fight in hopes of securing their spot in the second round. With the Leafs facing a two-goal deficit and only nine minutes remaining in regulation time, the crowds at the Bell Centre watching in anticipation in hopes of seeing the Habs live another day.
However, the nervous energy was fueled after Carey Price let one past the post to put the Leafs on the score board. With 3:11 remaining, Toronto’s T.J Brodie tied the game 2-2 to force the Habs and Leafs into overtime.
Yet, after Toronto defence lost it inside the line, Montreal’s Jesperi Kotkaniemi picked up the puck and slapped one past Jack Campbell to score the winning goal and force the series into Game to determine the series winner.
“It’s pretty unbelievable, Remarkable … it’s a great feeling. Especially when the fans are in the stands. Gives you goosebumps.”
Also scoring for Montreal were Tyler Toffoli and Corey Perry, while assists went to Paul Bryon, Jeff Petry, Nick Suzuki, and Tyler Toffoli. Goaltender Carey Price had 43 saves for the night, while Toronto’s Jack Campbell has 32 saves.
The Canadiens, who had built up a two goal lead going into the third period once again found a way to blow their lead, and once again, found a way around it to come back for victory. Montreal captain Shea Weber, who racked up almost 40 minutes of ice time on Saturday spoke to the media on his teammates stating, they are a group who doesn’t quit.
“We grinded. Price kept us in it, especially in overtime there when they were pushing and gave us a chance. That one shot made the difference.”
The Leafs seem to come alive in the third period after dismal performances in the first and second periods. However, it wasn’t until the Leafs outshot Montreal in the third that T.J. Brodie and Jason Spezza scored to give them a fighting chance. The disappointing start wasn’t lost on Mitch Marner, who stated post-game,
“We just didn’t come ready to play. We really do have to start on time because it’s getting said a lot, and it’s not good enough.”
Montreal managed to get back into the series with an overtime win in Game 6 in Toronto at the Scotiabank Arena. That forced the series into Game 6, and now, with another overtime win, Toronto is facing elimination after leading the series 3-1.
Toronto is now faced with the challenge to rein in the Canadiens and start Game 7 with an aggressive push or once again have an early and disastrous end to the playoffs. For most fans, the anticipation is reserved, especially after waiting over five decades for the Leafs to bring home the Stanley Cup.
Toronto’s head coach, Sheldon Keefe, recognized the effect the Canadiens early push has had over the Leafs in Game 5 and 6, commenting,
“Montreal, had a real hard push at the start and we can’t get through that. The crowd and the push at the start was significant for them. We’ve got to be a whole lot better.”
The battle between the Canadiens and Maple Leafs is well-documented, and the impact of the 2,500 fans shouting their support seemed to give energy to the underdogs. This only came after the Quebec government eased up on restrictions and ended the provincial curfew on Friday. Speaking on the experience, one few in the league have felt in months, Montreal defencemen Mark Weber said,
“We could hear them before the game, and going out for warmups, had chills. Honestly, 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.”
Heading into Game 7, punters wanting in on the action can register with several prominent bookmakers offering odds in favour of Toronto. Whoever wins will advance to play the Winnipeg Jets after they eliminated the Edmonton Oilers in the North Division’s first-round series. That series is slated to start on June 2, with Games 2, 3, 4 scheduled for June 4th, 6th and 7th. Unless the series ends in a sweep, games 5, 6 and 7 are scheduled for June 9th, 11th and the 13th.