Suzuki scores in OT as Canadiens rally to edge Maple Leafs
TORONTO — Nick Suzuki knows exactly what his team will face in the Atlantic Division.
The Montreal Canadiens captain is also confident the group is up for the challenge.
Suzuki scored 31 seconds into overtime Monday as Montreal roared back from a two-goal deficit in the third period to pick up a 5-4 NHL pre-season victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Canadiens are up against it in 2023-24 as part of a division that includes a murderers' row of the Leafs, Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers to go along with the up-and-coming Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings.
Despite the strides made by a young roster, Montreal looks likely to again finish at the bottom of the ledger. Even though it was only exhibition play, nights like this give the Canadiens hope.
"The Atlantic's been one of the toughest divisions, if not the hardest, for a long time," said Suzuki, who also had two assists Monday. "Some teams weren't doing so good and now they're all young and have a lot of talent.
"And the teams that were really good are still good. It's a neat situation, but it's always a battle."
Suzuki buried a Cole Caufield rebound off the post in the extra period to complete a Montreal response that saw the visitors score twice in the final seven minutes of regulation to push proceedings to OT.
"I was impressed," Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen said of the effort. "They had a majority of their lineup and we were only missing a couple of bodies.
"Good energy. I liked the fight and the compete with the guys. The ability to not get rattled, just keep playing, waiting for your chances."
Kirby Dach and Johnathan Kovacevic, with a goal and an assist each, Josh Anderson and Mattias Norlinder also scored for Montreal, which got 25 stops from Allen. Sean Monahan had two assists.
Max Domi buried his first goal at Scotiabank Arena as a member of the Leafs, John Tavares added two of his own, and Noah Gregor also scored for Toronto. Ilya Samsonov made 21 saves. Timothy Liljegren chipped in with two assists.
"Hopefully they leave pretty bitter about how the game finishes up," Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. "Whether it's pre-season or not, you've got a lead … you've got to take care of the game."
Domi, whose father Tie was a fan favourite with the Leafs from 1995 through 2006, played his first home game in Toronto after signing a one-year contract in free agency.
The veteran winger — on his seventh team ahead of a ninth NHL campaign — pushed the Leafs' advantage to 3-1 with five minutes left in the second period when the puck pinballed to him off the rush.
"You try not to let that stuff get in the way at all, but it was a special feeling," Domi said of pulling the blue and white sweater on in Toronto for the first time.
"To wear this jersey is a huge honour and a huge privilege."
The visitors cut the deficit to 3-2 when Dach scored short-handed with 11.6 seconds left in the period.
Leafs centre Auston Matthews, who's getting a long look on the penalty kill in pre-season, rattled Allen's crossbar eight minutes into the third with the Leafs down a skater.
Toronto finally made it 4-2 when Tavares fired his second of the night on a one-timer to end a dominant Toronto shift.
The Canadiens got back to within one when Kovacevic blasted a point shot past Samsonov before Anderson scored with 40.2 seconds left in regulation to force OT.
"We showed a lot of character," said Montreal forward Rafael Harvey-Pinard. "It's good for the confidence."
The teams dressed lineups mostly made up of NHL veterans, with the Canadiens taking a 1-0 lead on a first-period man advantage when Norlinder's point shot went in off a Leafs stick.
Toronto responded when Gregor, on a professional tryout and looking to earn a job down the lineup, snapped a puck that also changed direction before beating Allen.
The Leafs, who picked up victories Friday and Saturday in Montreal minus their stars, took the lead on a man advantage five minutes later when Tavares chipped a shot upstairs from in tight.
But the Canadiens would continue to push back.
"Right from the start we were playing well," said Suzuki, whose team flew into Toronto on Monday afternoon. "Hard situation coming in the day of, but the guys did a good job preparing and feeling good right off the start.
"That really set the tone for us."
QUESTIONS ON 'D'
The Leafs appear largely set at forward, but parts of their defence corps still have question marks with opening night set for Oct. 11 against Montreal. Free-agent signing John Klingberg (upper-body injury) hasn't been on the ice since last week, Conor Timmins is dealing with a "significant" lower-body issue, and Mark Giordano — the oldest player in the NHL turns 40 on Tuesday — is coming off a difficult playoffs.
The Canadiens announced Monday that 2023 first-round pick David Reinbacher will spend the 2023-24 season in Switzerland's top league. The move to return the 18-year-old defenceman to his European club comes after Juraj Slafkovsky — the No. 1 selection in 2022 — struggled to find traction during his first campaign in North America.
Toronto: Hosts the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday.
Montreal: Visits the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2023.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had an incorrect spelling of Conor Timmins' first name.