The Maple Leafs spent a big chunk of the low season remaking the sides of their roster.
Grit and veteran management had been added to a gifted group determined to alter the narrative of previous playoff failures.
A lot of these new parts had been on full show Wednesday evening earlier than Toronto’s longest-serving participant ensured his staff raised the curtain on the NHL’s abbreviated 56-game schedule in type.
Morgan Rielly scored at 3:24 of time beyond regulation because the Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 inside a fan-less Scotiabank Enviornment due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The defenceman took a feed from Toronto captain John Tavares on a 2-on-1 and beat Montreal goalie Carey Worth to finish a chaotic additional interval the place every groups had wonderful probabilities to seize the bonus level.
“These OTs, it actually comes right down to breaks,” Rielly mentioned. “That they had a breakaway moments previous to that, that was most likely my fault.
“You win some, you lose some.”
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On a traditional opening evening, followers of each Authentic Six rivals would have descended on downtown Toronto, duelling chants echoing across the constructing as a substitute of the piped-in crowd noise.
This season will as a substitute be like no different. However a minimum of hockey was again.
“We’re simply grateful to be taking part in,” mentioned Rielly, now in his eighth season with the Leafs. “We will have essentially the most enjoyable with it we are able to.”
William Nylander scored twice and added an help for Toronto, whereas Tavares had a objective and two assists. Jimmy Vesey chipped in together with his first objective with the staff, which obtained 28 saves from Frederik Andersen.
The Leafs credited bruising newcomer Wayne Simmonds, who made his debut together with Joe Thornton, T.J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian, with sparking the bench when he fought Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot with Toronto down 3-1 halfway by means of the second interval.
“That was a turning level,” Nylander mentioned. “He obtained the boys going, fired up. We had been a bit of delicate and sluggish at first.”
Josh Anderson replied with two objectives in his first recreation for Montreal, whereas Nick Suzuki, with a objective and an help, and Tomas Tatar supplied the remainder of the offence for the guests. Jonathan Drouin and Jeff Petry every added two assists.
“To begin the season off in Toronto is fairly particular,” mentioned Anderson, who grew up in close by Burlington, Ont. “We wished to get the 2 factors, nevertheless it’s an extended 12 months.”
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Worth made 29 stops within the first of 10 conferences between the golf equipment in 2021.
“Not too excited, they’re laborious video games,” Rielly mentioned with a smile when requested if he was wanting ahead to 9 extra video games in opposition to Montreal. “We will play them 9 extra instances, and we’ll play laborious. I’d anticipate the identical out of them.
“It will be entertaining to look at, to be part of.”
After the Leafs erased a two-goal deficit late within the second, Anderson registered his second of the evening 1:03 into the third by reducing round Tavares and firing a shot that beat the Leafs netminder beneath his proper arm to make it 4-3.
Toronto’s Andersen then denied Montreal’s Anderson of his first-career hat trick on the doorstep a couple of minutes later after Suzuki stepped previous Rielly.
One of many Leafs’ lesser-known additions, Vesey took benefit of a fortuitous bounce with 10:33 left in regulation when Drouin’s clearing try hit an official. Nylander jumped on the free puck and shortly fed Vesey.
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Auston Matthews, who had scored in his 4 earlier openers, adopted that up by ripping a shot off the publish behind the Montreal goalie that stayed to set the stage for time beyond regulation.
“Wasn’t that enjoyable?” Thornton requested. “The boys had been down early, however we managed to come back again, and what a fantastic end by [Rielly].
“The 40-plus gamers and coaches actually loved being on the market once more.”
Toronto, Montreal and Canada’s 5 different NHL franchises are taking part in within the one-season-only North Division necessitated by border laws associated to non-essential journey.
Hockey returned, nevertheless it did not seem like any regular-season opener in historical past with the pandemic looming massive.
The groups hit the ice in entrance of greater than 19,000 empty seats — Canadian followers, and people in most NHL cities, aren’t allowed into arenas a minimum of to begin — tarps largely adorned with company sponsors lined the primary six rows, and coaches wore league-mandated masks behind the benches.
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However for those who closed your eyes, at instances it felt like a traditional recreation evening.
Music blared, the general public tackle announcer went over the same old security precautions for spectators, and Leafs winger Mitch Marner even flipped a puck into the stands as if there have been followers ready a memento on the conclusion of warmups.
The forty eighth Highlanders, who’ve carried out at each Toronto dwelling opener since Maple Leaf Gardens opened in 1931, saved the custom alive — albeit just about.
Entrance-line employees, together with docs, nurses, cops, firefighters and lecturers, launched Toronto’s beginning lineup, anthem singer Martina Ortiz Luis carried out “O Canada” from the empty stands as a substitute of at ice degree, and synthetic crowd noise contributed to the ambiance as soon as the motion obtained underway.
“As soon as the sport begins, you are caught up in it,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe mentioned. “It simply appears like hockey.”
Each groups took half within the league’s summer time restart after the coronavirus pressured the NHL to droop the 2019-20 schedule again in March, however exited the Toronto bubble with vastly completely different experiences and emotions.
The Leafs got here in with excessive hopes solely to be knocked out by Columbus within the five-game qualifiers, whereas the Canadiens — handed a lifeline because the twenty fourth of 24 groups included within the format — upset Pittsburgh earlier than going toe-to-toe with Philadelphia within the first spherical of the playoffs.
New season, new faces
Every roster underwent important low season renovations, with Toronto trying to alter its tradition, and Montreal eager to make a push up the standings after its group.
The Leafs added Thornton — the 41-year-old is in his twenty third NHL season — and Simmonds up entrance, as effectively Brodie and Bogosian on the again finish. The Canadiens’ new faces embrace Anderson and Tyler Toffoli, defenceman Joel Edmundson and backup goalie Jake Allen.
Montreal opened Wednesday’s scoring at 12:49 of the primary on the facility play when Suzuki scored from a decent angle earlier than Nylander replied 3:07 later.
The Canadiens retook the lead late within the interval when Anderson, acquired from Columbus within the Max Domi commerce, opened his account from the slot.
Montreal went again on the person benefit within the second and after Andersen stopped Drouin in on their lonesome, Tatar made no mistake on one other breakaway at 7:20.
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The tough-as-nails Simmonds then dropped the gloves with Chiarot later within the interval, scoring a victory in his first battle together with his hometown membership.
“The boys wanted a bit of little bit of a spark,” Simmonds mentioned. “I do know my roll.”
The Leafs made it 3-2 with two minutes left within the interval on an influence play when Nylander roofed one other shot on Worth.
Toronto then obtained a two-man benefit, and Marner fed Tavares in entrance to tie issues with 38.7 seconds remaining.
“We miss our followers in such a enjoyable, back-and-forth kind of recreation like this,” Keefe mentioned. “It could have been good to have them right here, however we’ll should get used to this.
“That is what we have got and hopefully we’re in a position to entertain folks at dwelling.”