Classic Habs win over Maple Leafs boosted by uplifting atmosphere
MONTREAL — It was just under eight minutes into the third period of a decisive game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs when Jake Allen crossed his end zone, sprawled and deflected the shot on receiving Mitch Marner out of play with his blocker. It’s the game’s most crucial save, perhaps the best Allen has made in his two seasons with the Canadiens, and fans have an idea of what happened, but don’t. have not fully processed.
But with Superman’s music blasting through the PA system as the replay hits the dashboard, they stand up and a shattering eardrum below emanates from them. Allen’s name is chanted, and it’s one of many moments that turn a regular-season game between a playoff-bound Leafs team and an already mathematically eliminated Canadiens team into an instant classic.
That Allen made that save seconds after William Nylander scored a power-play goal to give Toronto a 2-1 lead was one thing. Whether it was one of the 49 saves he recorded to help the Canadiens win 4-2 was another.
A few hundred seats were vacated by Leafs fans at the end. But Montreal fans stayed in droves to give Allen his due as the game’s first star.
They made this night special from the start.
They tried to rally the Canadiens when Auston Matthews put the Leafs on the board just 36 seconds away and even after the home side had returned 11 of the first 12 shots. They finally succeeded after David Savard tied the match 1-1 in 10and minute of the second period.
The noise level rose dramatically when Cole Caufield gave the Canadiens a 2-1 lead with his 14and goal of the season, and it was deafening when Paul Byron scored with 2:28 left in the third to give them a 3-2 lead.
None of this should be taken for granted. Not after two years in a near-empty or half-full Bell Center, and certainly not by players — and coaches — who grew up watching this age-old rivalry play out past Saturday nights.
Laval native Martin St. Louis said it was a “great feeling” to see his Canadians riding the wave the crowd was supporting them.
Savard, of Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., said the reality of playing in a Saturday night playoff-style game between Montreal and Toronto met his childhood dream.
And then there was Allen, who hasn’t had an experience like this at any other time in his short career with the Canadiens, with Saturday’s game being the first between these teams played in front of a crowd at full capacity since January 1. 8, 2020 (months before the pandemic began, when Ilya Kovalchuk scored the game winner in overtime to garner the kind of attention Allen garnered throughout that night).
“I think these games are special to me personally, especially where I’m from,” said the 31-year-old Fredericton native. “And there are also a lot of New Brunswickers here tonight. It connects near you. It’s something I always watched growing up — Montreal-Toronto on Hockey Night in Canada – like most guys here did. Special to be in there, to be able to play between the pipes and achieve victory.
“And besides, it’s against the Leafs. I know it’s another game, but at the same time, it’s a pretty special feeling, no doubt.
“Not many guys, once their career is over, can look back and say they played for the Canadiens, especially as goaltenders. I think from a goalkeeper’s perspective, it’s always a prized position. (Carey Price has) locked him up for a long time and always will, but just to be able to play for the Canadiens on Saturday night at the Bell Center is tough to beat.
It’s not like that everywhere, and it’s probably not like that everywhere for a team that spent most of its season in last place in the NHL and was eliminated from all 18 postseason games. before the end of the calendar.
“Incredible” is how Byron put it. “I can’t say enough about the fans and the support we get here. We know it’s been a long season, we haven’t been at our best. So to be where we are in the standings, coming in night after night and having that kind of vibe, it’s amazing. It’s a testament to the fans of Montreal, and we’re really lucky to play in this building night after night.
It’s a give-and-take relationship.
What those in attendance received on Saturday night was a spectacle – even with the Canadians outshot 51-18.
Did Allen steal the game? Sure.
But the Canadiens also put him on the line against a far superior Leafs team, and they did so for most of the night with just 10 forwards after Tyler Pitlick and Michael Pezzetta left with upper injuries. from the body.
Alex Romanov played a career-high 27:16, Nick Suzuki had two assists and played 22:43, Christian Dvorak scored the insurance scorer after being called up for a goal earlier, and it was the one of Savard’s best games of the season.
Much of this happened because of the energy discharge offered by the fans.
“Being on the ice as a player is a great feeling when your audience supports you like that,” said St. Louis, who has experienced that a lot during his Hall of Fame playing career, but sees it. now through the lenses of a young coach.
“You have momentum, you come in waves, and I felt we did it in that second,” he said. “Good feelings. The home advantage is a big advantage. And as a manager with the last change, it’s a big advantage when that crowd is behind you and you ride the momentum, and you get it. saw tonight.
It was exciting when Allen made that save on Marner. It was exhilarating all night.