Jamal Watson (Craig Glover/The London Free Press)

LONDON, ON. — After dropping their first game of the 2015 Rookie Tournament, the Montreal Canadiens were looking to come out strong against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs at Budweiser Arena in London, Ontario on Saturday. If you missed the overtime thriller against the Penguins on Friday you can find my recap here.

Game-day Skate

With the rival Leafs next on the Rookie Tournament schedule, Sylvain Lefebvre and his troops knew that they were preparing for the most anticipated game of the weekend as they  hit the ice at Budweiser Gardens for a 45-minute practice. It was a light practice with a a variety of line rushes and defensive drills.

Following the game-day skate, head coach Sylvain Lefebvre, forward Charles Hudon and forward Michael McCarron spoke to the media.

Head coach Sylvain Lefebvre

Charles Hudon (en Francais)

Michael McCarron

Pre-game

The Canadiens had four healthy scratches vs the Maple Leafs, defensemen Simon Bourque and Mac Bennett along with forwards Dryden Hunt and Brandon McNally. The Leafs had a  total of 10 players scratched from the lineup including: Lucas Peressini, Rinat Valiev, Andrew Nielson, Cody Donaghey, Brenden Miller, J.J. Piccinich, William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, (former Habs prospect) Brady Vail and Mitchell Marner.

Forward lines:

Daniel Carr – Charles Hudon – Jeremy Gregoire
Connor Crisp – Michael McCarron – Nikita Scherbak
Tim Bozon – Daniel Audette – Jamal Watson
Jeremiah Addison – Angelo Miceli – Sam Studnicka

Defense pairings:

Joel Hanley – Brett Lernout
Josiah Didier – Travis Brown
Ryan Johnston – Dalton Thrower

Goaltenders:

Michael McNiven
Zach Fucale (back-up)

(Photo by Christopher Hatzitolis | Rocket Sports Media)
(Photo by Christopher Hatziolis | Rocket Sports Media)

First Period

Michael McCarron beat Freddy Gauthier on the opening faceoff to kick off an exciting first 20 minutes of hockey. The game began at a high pace with considerably more intensity in the building. The Maple Leafs controlled play to begin the period with with chances evening up around the 15 minute mark.

Canadiens forward Angelo Miceli took a cross-checking minor but the Habs penalty-killers managed to kill it off. But seconds later Leafs forward Jack Rodewald shedded his check, Charles Hudon, to score the opening goal. At the halfway point of the first period, Toronto had a 1-0 lead and an 11-7 shots on goal advantage.

With just over nine minutes remaining, Toronto’s Michael Joly took a tripping penalty. On the ensuing powerplay, Charles Hudon and Dalton Thrower both hit goal posts, no cigar for the Canadiens. Big Mike McCarron and Cameron Lizotte dropped the gloves with just over three and half minutes left in the period. Big punches were thrown but McCarron got the last few blows in and the takedown, for a very solid bout.

McCarron was assessed an instigator penalty, as he clearly was looking for payback after Lizotte had delivered a high hit on Hudon. While killing the penalty Habs forward Jamal Watson stole the puck at the blueline and skated off to a shorthanded breakaway. Watson faked a forehand shot, went to the back-hand and roofed it over Leafs goalie Justin Nichols to tie the game at one.

The period ended in a 1-1 tie. Shots on goal were 14-11 in favor of Toronto.

Second Period

The second period started with a boom as Leafs Nikolas Brouillard dropped the gloves with Brett Lernout. The Canadiens defenseman landed about seven haymakers to the top of  Brouillard’s helmet. Both men stayed on their feet in very strong tilt. A little over a minute later, Leafs Travis Dermott was sent to the box for tripping Ryan Johnston. On the power-play, Tim Bozon scored his second of the tournament to finish a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play with Ryan Johnston and Nikita Scherbak.

At the 11:30 mark of the period, with Michael McCarron in the penalty box for holding, Leafs defenseman Nikolas Brouillard tied the game at two. Just 14 seconds later, the Leafs took the lead as Michael Joly tapped in a loose puck in a scramble at McNiven’s goal.

With just under six minutes to go in the second frame, Connor Crisp scored his first goal of the tournament to tie the game at three on a goal-mouth tip off Joel Hanley’s point shot. As the period went on, both teams pressed for the go ahead goal but neither was successful. Late in the second period, Brett Lernout was sent to the box. With 25 seconds left in the period, Jeremy Gregoire joined him in the box, giving the Leafs a 5-on-3 powerplay. Lernout exited the box a few seconds before the end of the period.

Shots on goal at the end of the second were 32-23 in favor of Toronto with the score tied 3-3 .

Third Period

Just over two minutes into the final frame, the Canadiens coaching staff switched up the lines to spark the offense. Coach Lefebvre’s plan seemed to work as the third wore on. Six minutes into the period, Nikita Scherbak was assessed a tripping minor. But the Leafs man advantage only lasted 17 seconds as Michael Joly was penalized for for hooking.

Less than a minute after Joly’s trip to the box, Charles Hudon took advantage and gave his club a 4-3 lead. One minute and 24 seconds later, Dalton Thrower scored on a sweet backhand to give the Canadiens a 5-3 lead. The clubs exchanged minor penalties as the game trickled on. Nikolas Brouillard scored with a seeing-eye shot with 3:12 to go giving the Leafs some life, down by just a goal.

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe pulled goaltender Justin Nichols with 1:33 to go in the game but to no avail as Charles Hudon iced the game with his second goal of the night with 8.9 seconds to go. The Canadiens had their first win of the weekend tourney win a 6-4 decision over the Maple Leafs.

Michael McNiven (Craig Glover/The London Free Press)
Michael McNiven (Craig Glover/The London Free Press)

Summary

The Montreal Canadiens were outshot 51-36 in the game. They bent but didn’t break. Coach Lefebvre’s resilient team didn’t give up when the Leafs pressed and controlled play, instead they fought back to win the game. It was a testament to the talent of goaltender Michael McNiven. He made 47 saves, battled and gave his team momentum with some very big and timely saves. McNiven’s play really seemed to give his team confidence.

In addition to the Canadiens goaltender, the best players in this contest were Charles Hudon, Dalton Thrower, Brett Lernout and Ryan Johnston. Lernout had a fantastic bounce back game after an okay showing on Friday vs the Penguins.

Lefebvre’s team will look to build on this big win as they take on the Ottawa Senators on Sunday at 4 pm.

Post-game

Forward Jeremy Gregoire (en Francais)

Head coach Sylvain Lefebvre

Defenseman Ryan Johnston

Captain Daniel Carr (one-on-one)