NHL·TOR leads 3-2

Canadiens bounce back after blowing 3-goal lead to stun Leafs in OT

Nick Suzuki scored 59 seconds into overtime as Montreal survived a blown 3-0 lead to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 on Thursday and force Game 6 of this Original Six first-round playoff matchup.

Montreal's Nick Suzuki nets winner following Toronto giveaway to force Game 6

Montreal centre Nick Suzuki, left, celebrates his game-winning OT goal with teammate Cole Caufield during the Canadiens' 4-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 5 of their first-round series on Thursday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The Canadiens are heading home with a pulse — and their fans will be there waiting.

Nick Suzuki scored 59 seconds into overtime as Montreal survived a blown two-goal lead in the third period to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 on Thursday and force Game 6 of this Original Six first-round playoff matchup.

Cole Caufield intercepted a dangerous, ill-advised Alex Galchenyuk pass in Montreal's zone and moved in on a 2-on-0 with Suzuki, who passed to his rookie teammate after crossing Toronto's blue line.

Suzuki then quickly got the puck back from Caufield before beating a helpless Jack Campbell with a bullet shot blocker side as the Canadiens spilled over the bench to celebrate.

"Sometimes those 2-on-0s are a little bit more difficult," Suzuki said after burying his second goal of the series. "We're both capable of scoring and making plays.

"It was a great play by him to touch it right back."

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Joel Armia, with two, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi had the other goals for Montreal, which still trails Toronto 3-2 in the series. Carey Price made 32 saves.

"Resiliency," the veteran goaltender said when asked what his team demonstrated. "It's not easy to have the right mentality going into an overtime like that after giving up a two-goal lead in the third."

Price said Montreal's locker room was "calm and composed" prior to OT: "Everybody knew what was at stake."

But Suzuki added a number of the team's veterans stepped up and spoke candidly during a meeting Wednesday.

"We've got a ton of leaders that I look up to," he said. "These opportunities in playoffs don't come that often, so you've got to make the most of it."

Jake Muzzin, with two goals, and Zach Hyman replied for the Leafs, while Campbell stopped 26 shots.

"Any time your back's against the wall, you push back," Hyman said. "You saw that from them. We've been in that situation before and you always respond."

Due to a loosening of COVID-19 restrictions, the Quebec government will allow 2,500 fans into the Bell Centre for Saturday's Game 6 — the first Canadian NHL crowd in Canada since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

"They will deserve that game big time," Montreal centre Phillip Danault said. "It's going to be crazy there. It's going to be awesome. I can't wait to be in front of our fans. Been waiting for that all year.

"And here we are, Game 6 against Toronto, Saturday night at home. Can't get any better than that."

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The Leafs, meanwhile, missed an opportunity to win a playoff series for the first time since 2004, but still have two more cracks at advancing.

The Winnipeg Jets await the winner following their surprise sweep of Connor McDavid's Edmonton Oilers in the North Division's other first-round series.

The Leafs came close to opening the scoring early Thursday when bruising forward Wayne Simmonds rang a shot off the crossbar on Price from in tight, but it would be the visitors striking first moments later.

After veteran winger Corey Perry forced a turnover by plastering Leafs rookie defenceman Rasmus Sandin into the boards, Armia picked up the loose puck and wired his first goal of the series — and just Montreal's fifth overall — past Campbell's glove at 5:13.

The inspired Canadiens kept coming, and Armia scored his second at 8:18 on a scramble with Campbell swimming in his crease. Perry picked up an assist on the sequence, which started with Armia knocking down William Nylander's clearing attempt, for the 100th playoff point of his career.

"Army's a solid player," Price said. "I don't think he gets enough credit for what he does. Perr's the same way.

"It's good to see them get rewarded."

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The Leafs had chances of their own in the period, but Price was there each time, including a terrific denial of Nylander, who had scored in all four games coming into Thursday, on a 2-on-1.

"They were much more desperate than us in the first," Toronto centre Auston Matthews said. "They jump out to a quick 2-0 lead, but I'm proud of the way that we fought back."

Montreal won Game 1 of the series 2-1 thanks to Price's 35-save performance on a night where Leafs captain John Tavares was stretchered off following a scary collision before being outscored 11-2 in losing the next three to fall behind Toronto 3-1. Tavares, who suffered a concussion and a knee injury, was in attendance for Game 5 after briefly taking the ice prior to his team's morning skate.

The Canadiens made it 3-0 at 4:52 of the second when Kotkaniemi pressured the shaky Sandin behind the Leafs' net on a good forecheck. The puck popped in front, and the Montreal centre eventually poked it under Campbell and in for his second.

Montreal centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi celebrates a second-period goal. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The Toronto netminder made a nice stop on Tyler Toffoli — Montreal's 28-goal man still looking for his first in the post-season — midway through the period on a break to keep his team within three.

The divisions' top seed during the NHL's pandemic-truncated campaign, 18 points clear of their opponent in the standings, the Leafs showed some life 1:40 later when Mitch Marner threw a puck in front from behind the goal line that Hyman slid home.

The grinding Toronto winger then got a breakaway 30 seconds into the third, but Price was there to shut the door.

The Leafs got to within one just after their only power play ended when Muzzin blasted a point shot through a screen at 6:52.

Toronto the got even with 8:06 left in regulation when Muzzin drove the net and tipped Galchenyuk's shot through Price's legs to force a brief OT.

"We showed a lot of heart," Suzuki said. "We feel like we can come back into this series, especially going back to the Bell Centre now for Game 6. It's going to be a lot of fun to play in front of our fans. We know it's not going to be a full barn, but I know it'll be loud.

"We'll be ready to go."

And so will that Bell Centre crowd.

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