MONTREAL — The Maple Leafs have relied on Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner for the bulk of their offence this season.
Toronto's supporting cast showed the team's lesser lights are also capable of contributing in big moments.
Justin Holl and Ilya Mikheyev scored their first goals of the campaign 42 seconds apart early in Wednesday's third period after Travis Dermott also opened his account to tie the game 1-1 as the Leafs recovered from a rocky start to defeat the Montreal Canadiens 4-2.
Toronto fell behind when Josh Anderson buried the home side's opening salvo, but rebounded with Dermott picking a corner on Carey Price, Holl blasting one upstairs, and Mikheyev bagging another off the rush.
"That's all really positive stuff for us," said Matthews, who saw his eight-game goal streak come to an end. Those guys start feeling it, they get confidence and they start rolling.
"It was a huge win."
Zach Hyman, into an empty net off an assist from Matthews that extended the star centre's point streak to 11 games, helped set up Mikheyev's goal before icing things for Toronto (11-2-1), which got 33 saves from Frederik Andersen. Jake Muzzin added three assists and John Tavares had two as the Leafs improved to 8-0-1 over their last nine games. Marner, meanwhile, saw his eight-game point streak come to an end.
Toronto now holds a five-point lead over its Original Six rival atop the NHL and all-Canadian North Division standings after a hard-fought victory inside the Bell Centre, which would have been rocking in a normal season, but instead remains devoid of fans because of COVID-19 restrictions.
"It's massive," Tavares said of getting contributions up and down the roster. "We've got guys throughout our lineup that can contribute offensively, I think there's no doubt about that."
Tomas Tatar had the other goal for Montreal (8-3-2), which got 20 stops from Price.
"We knew it was going to be a challenge," Anderson said. "I thought we set the tempo at the start of the game and overall played pretty good.
"A few bounces went their way and they capitalized."
The Canadiens have a quick turnaround with the Edmonton Oilers waiting in the wings Thursday in the second half of a back-to-back, while the Leafs will head home to prepare for Saturday's rematch with Montreal — the third of 10 meetings between the clubs in 2021.
Tied 1-1 through 40 minutes, Toronto pushed ahead at 1:50 of the third when Holl was given all day to load up and rip a slapshot by Price's glove with the teams playing 4 on 4.
"I've uncorked it now," Holl said with a smile of the blast that resulted in his first goal since Feb. 27, 2020. "There's no turning back."
The defenceman said he could see teammate William Nylander — usually a far more adept shooter — calling for the puck before deciding to give it a go himself.
"As I came down I was like, 'Oh man, Willy's going to want this biscuit,'" Holl said. "It ended up going in, and all's well that ends well."
Price, who watched three of Montreal's five previous games as the Canadiens look to get the most out of their starter with a dependable backup in Jack Allen now in the fold, was beaten again at 2:32 when Mikheyev found the back of the net after Alexander Kerfoot fanned on his intial effort.
The goal was the winger's first since Dec. 27, 2020 — the same night he suffered a serious wrist laceration from a skate blade.
"He must have had the most chances in the league without one yet," Tavares said of Mikheyev's breakthrough. "Definitely great to see him get rewarded the way he's been playing."
Montreal made a push as the period wore on, with Tatar scoring his fourth with 3:20 left in regulation off a scramble to make it 3-2, but the Leafs and Andersen held the fort until Hyman sealed it.
"We talked about having our best period of the year between the second and the third," Tavares said. "I don't know if it was our best, but certainly the way we came out suited ourselves, got the two-goal lead and took the game in our hands."
Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said he was happy to see his team respond after a shaky first 10 minutes.
"Our job as a team is to help (Andersen) out, and I thought we did that," he said. "Defensively, we didn't give them very much at all.
"I had this as the lowest number of scoring chances we've given up in a game all season."
Montreal entered the marquee matchup rested following Saturday's 2-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators, while Toronto was playing its fourth game in seven nights after sweeping the Vancouver Canucks three straight at Scotiabank Arena.
The Canadiens opened the scoring 76 seconds into the first on a sequence started and finished by Anderson. The big winger dislodged the puck from Muzzin with a hit in the neutral zone before taking a pass from Jonathan Drouin and beating Andersen off the rush to score his ninth and pull even with Tyler Toffoli for the team lead.
The Leafs, who weren't good through 40 minutes Monday against Vancouver before coming alive to secure a 3-1 victory, again took a while to get going, but started to find their legs as the period wore on.
Tavares, who had a great chance early in the second, was left bloodied and forced into concussion protocol later in the period when the Toronto captain's face slammed off the ice after getting tied up with Canadiens counterpart Shea Weber.
With Tavares back and playing inspired hockey, Toronto got even when Dermott, who returned to the lineup following a two-game absence because of a charley horse, wired his first beyond Price's blocker at 15:48 with the teams also playing 4 on 4 after the Leafs hemmed the Canadiens in their zone.
Asked if he knew Dermott, who scored his first goal in 411 days, and Holl had those shots in their tool belts, Keefe flashed a grin.
"No doubt," he said. "They only pull it out when it counts the most."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 10, 2021.
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