TORONTO â€” “Desperate” hockey helped the teetering Montreal Canadiens score a big two points on Saturday night.
Andrew Shaw scored the overtime winner and Carey Price was stellar with 32 saves as the Canadiens beat the Maple Leafs for the 14th consecutive time, a 3-2 triumph at the Air Canada Centre. The victory offered the sputtering Habs some much-needed cushioning in an increasingly tight Atlantic Division.
Montreal now has 74 points, four up on Ottawa (70) and five up on Toronto (69). The Leafs could have pulled within two points had they emerged in regulation.
“I thought we played very desperate hockey tonight and responded well from our previous game,” said Price, who stopped an Auston Matthews breakaway and hat-trick attempt moments before Shaw’s game winner.
It was just the third win in the last 11 games (3-7-1) for the Canadiens and second under new head coach Claude Julien (2-2-0).
“This is the stretch of the year that gets tough,” said Shaw, his ninth goal this year also his first game-winning marker in the bleu, blanc et rouge. “There’s tight games and the teams with character and the teams with heart that are going to find the ways to win.”
Looking for their first win over Montreal since Jan. 18, 2014, the Leafs got on the board first on a strange goal midway through the opening frame.
Matthews drove into the Canadiens zone with speed, pulled up and fired a shot that pinged off the outstretched stick and then arm of Alexei Emelin before bouncing off the ice and in between the pads of Price. It was the 19-year-old’s team-leading 29th goal and 53rd point of the season.
The goal was also Matthews’ 11th to open a game this year â€” tops among NHL players â€” and 10th point (five goals, five assists) over the last 10 games.
Matthews had two chances to score earlier in the period, but was denied both times by Price.
Struggling to score these days, Montreal nearly evened it up at one with 55 seconds left in the first, Max Pacioretty’s redirection attempt creeping through the pads of Frederik Andersen before striking the post.
Pacioretty celebrated for a moment, thinking the puck had crossed the line.
The Canadiens entered the night with only 13 goals in their previous 10 games.
Pacioretty finally evened it up at one seven-plus minutes into the second on a Canadiens power play, just the third marker on the man advantage this month for Montreal.
Toronto looked to be in fine position moments before the goal, but Zach Hyman held onto the puck in the neutral zone for one extra second and had it swiped by Pacioretty. The Habs struck back quickly with Alex Galchenyuk feeding the team’s captain for the one-timer and game-tying marker â€” his 29th goal this season.
“Those are the types of efforts that we’re going to continuously need for the rest of the season,” Price said.
Galchenyuk got the Habs the lead in the final five minutes of the period when he beat Leafs centre Nazem Kadri for positioning around the net and deposited a Nikita Nesterov pass.
Price was sharp in a middle period which saw Toronto outshoot Montreal 12-5. He turned aside two good chances from Connor Brown and Matthews on a Leafs power play â€” stopping all eight of their shots with the man advantage.
“He was our best player tonight,” Shaw said of Price, who earned his 259th career win to pass Ken Dryden for sole possession of third place in Canadiens history.
The Leafs were playing without Mitch Marner and Tyler Bozak (hand), the former missing his fifth straight game with an apparent right shoulder injury.
Matthews tied it at two with his second of the game 79 seconds into the third, just getting his stick on a feed from Hyman. He became just the third Leafs rookie ever to hit the 30-goal plateau, joining Wendel Clark and Daniel Marois.
Matthews needs five goals to break Clark’s rookie franchise record of 34.
The American centre also pulled even with Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine for top spot among rookies in goals (30) and points (54).
Matthews nearly had the hat trick in overtime, his breakaway attempt stopped by the knob of Price’s stick.
The Habs scored off the next faceoff, Shaw taking a long, lofting feed from Tomas Plekanec and tucking around an Andersen poke-check before slamming hard into the end boards.
“I didn’t see (the poke-check) until the last second so it might’ve been a little luck on our side,” Shaw said. “But I think we’ve been working hard and competing and doing the little things right so it’s about time the bounces started going our way.”
The Leafs equalled their point total from all of last season (69) in getting to overtime, head coach Mike Babcock noting that the “big step is we’re getting to play in real hockey games that matter.”
Babcock was pleased with his team’s effort in defeat and paid little mind to Montreal’s three-year winning streak over Toronto â€” which preceded his hiring as coach.
“Did I want to win tonight? Yes,” Babcock said. “Are we going to beat Montreal? Yes.”
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press