Maple Leafs attempt to close out Canadiens in Game 5

NHL

The Toronto Maple Leafs can clinch their first-round best-of-seven playoff series Thursday night with a victory in Game 5 over the visiting Montreal Canadiens.

After the teams split the first two games in Toronto, the Maple Leafs took the next two in Montreal to take a 3-1 series lead.

“We have to play like it’s our last game,” Canadiens defenseman Jeff Petry said after the Maple Leafs won 4-0 on Tuesday. “We’ve all gone through a lot this year, whether it’s injuries, tough stretches in the season. We found a way to get out of them and this is no different.”

Montreal has been outscored 12-4 in the series while going 0-for-13 on the power play. Toronto has dominated the second period with an 8-1 advantage in goals.

“Second period opens up a little bit, and we look at that as a big opportunity for us to take hold of the game,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “And that’s really what our focus has been on is to have good starts, not let the game get away on us and then look to pull away each shift as we go along. The second is a big part of that, of course.”

A former Canadiens player, Alex Galchenyuk, had a goal and two assists for Toronto on Tuesday. He did not play in Game 1, but has been in the lineup since the injuries (concussion, knee) to John Tavares in the series opener.

“(Toronto is) going good defensively, that’s for sure, (but) I thought we created enough to score tonight,” Canadiens interim coach Dominique Ducharme said after Game 4. “We had some good looks, but sometimes guys think about it and they’re squeezing their sticks. Confidence is a big thing. We’re always looking at ways to produce more chances and, at some point, we have to finish when the chances are there. It’s a combination of many things, but we see it in any goal scorer. He goes through a drought and gets one and he scores five goals in five games.”

William Nylander has been that scorer for the Maple Leafs, with one goal in each of the four games.

Nylander is the third player in franchise history to score at least one goal in four consecutive games to open the playoffs — Gordie Drillon (five games, 1939) and Wendel Clark (four games, 1986). Three players in Maple Leafs history have recorded a longer goal streak at any point in the postseason. They were Drillon, Sid Smith (five games, 1951) and Dave Andreychuk (five games, 1993).

Maple Leafs left winger Nick Foligno (lower-body injury) missed his second consecutive game on Tuesday.

The Maple Leafs, who won consecutive postseason games in Montreal for the first time since the 1967 Stanley Cup final, have not advanced to the second round since 2004.

Toronto is 11-1 all-time when leading a series 3-1. This is the first time Toronto has had a 3-1 lead in a series since 1987.

If the Canadiens force a Game 6, it would be played in Montreal on Saturday, and the Quebec government will allow 2,500 fans into the Bell Centre. It would be the first NHL crowd in Canada since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We should all be really hungry and come back to play in front of our fans,” Canadiens center Phillip Danault said.

–Field Level Media

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