William Nylander could only sense the anticipation building from the warmup.
Jack Campbell described the “electric” atmosphere of the Maple Leafs’ first regular-season home crowd in 19 months.
The duo made sure that most of the attendees went home happy on Wednesday.
Nylander scored the winner early in the third period and Campbell made 31 saves, including some big stops with his teammates stuck in the starting blocks, as Toronto beat the Montreal Canadiens 2–1 in the season-opener for both clubs. Was.
“Just unbelievable,” Campbell said. “The fans were just super loud and super in the game.
“It’s great to see everyone back.”
Pierre Angval’s second goal for the home side was in front of 18,493 masked and fully vaccinated spectators at the Scotiabank Arena – the venue’s first crowd for games since March 10, 2020, due to COVID-19.
“It was very special,” Nylander said. “So long (since then) we played with the fans.”
Jonathan Drouin, who is back with the Canadiens after leaving the team back in the spring to deal with anxiety and insomnia, responded for Montreal.
“It was nice to get one,” he said. “But I wish we got two points instead.”
Jake Allen blocked 28 shots for the Canadiens, whose surprise appearance in last season’s Stanley Cup final included a surprise comeback from a 3–1 series deficit against the Leafs in the first round.
It looked like they could pile up another dose of heartache – shortly after the puck drop on Wednesday – with far fewer stakes.
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“The first 10 minutes we were not good,” said Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe. “It took us a while to really get comfortable with the game. From then on I thought the effort was really strong. People worked, competed.
“It was a tough game till the end… Glad we’re finding our way to the right side.”
Toronto minus No. 1 center was Austin Matthews, who led the NHL with 41 goals in only 52 games during the NHL’s pandemic-short 2021–22 campaign because of a wrist injury that did not fully heal from surgery, while Star winger Mitch Marner dressed as he left practice after a collision on Tuesday.
Montreal, on the other hand, started life without captain and injured defenseman Shea Webber with potentially career-threatening ankle and foot injuries that would sideline them this season, while goaltender Carey Price took the lead last year. Weeks entered the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program. And will be away from the team until at least the beginning of November.
Nylander drew 1-1 in 66 seconds in the third, when he took a pass from Morgan Reilly before slapping Allen on the shortside and firing overhead.
“That just happened,” said Nylander with a grin. “I didn’t really plan on doing anything. That’s the way it turned out.”
The winger had a solid playoff for Toronto despite his team failing to advance – something Keefe said was progressing well.
“The clutch target for us,” he said. “When you get an opportunity like this with one of your best players, you are obviously expecting him to be able to capitalize on it.
“He did just that.”
Montreal also had a great opportunity to come back with a 5-on-3 power play for 1:44, but the Leafs survived for a shot block by Justin Hole, with Brendan Gallagher staring at a wide-open net. Were.
When Nylander left for tripping, the Canadiens had another man-gain opportunity in less than nine minutes. They once again came up empty handed before being held late in Toronto.
“The penalty kill was a huge factor,” Hall said. “Whenever you can win or tie a special teams fight, we’re very confident in our ability 5-on-5.”
Fans of both teams received information about Toronto’s downtown core in the hours before the game, including near the atrium of Maple Leaf Square, which last season had a COVID-19 crisis for arena staff, team staff and the media. -19 was used as the test site.
The 48th Highlanders, who performed at every curtain-raiser in Toronto since the opening of Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931, kept the tradition alive last season, and were back with their pipes and drums on the ice before the warmup.
With a group of front-line workers in attendance, the Hamilton-based archangels rocked a pre-recorded performance outside the Leafs’ locker room, before anthem singer Martina Ortiz Luis introduced fans to the Scotiabank Arena at O Canada. encouraged to take up singing. For the first time in 582 days.
“It was completely different from the time I went on the bench or the introduction,” Keefe said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen this place full. I felt that the crowd was engaged from the beginning.
“They were a real factor in the game.”
While that crowd, which was less than a sell-out, was ready to go, Toronto certainly was not as Montreal had five excellent scoring chances in the first three minutes of the game over razor-sharp Campbell.
The Canadiens eventually jumped to the front at an earlier 7:22 when Drouin made a 2-on-1 rush after the Leafs turned the puck on the offensive blue line.
“My head is clear,” Drouin said of how he feels now compared to when he moved back in April. “I’m more into the game, I’m more focused, I’m more prepared.
“Going to the rink was a completely different experience for me than it was in the past few years.”
The Leafs would eventually kick into gear, and Angwall scored the first power-play goal of his career in 10:12 when he overtook Allen.
The Montreal goaltender was then bailed out twice with an iron, including a late deflected Rasmus Sandin effort that was off the crossbar and the crowd was buzzing.
“When you have a year like last year, you really enjoy playing in front of the fans,” Hall said. “It was really awesome.”
“It powered us, there’s no question about it.”