Jaroslav Halak Shines as Maple Leafs Lose Heartbreaker to Rival Canadiens in OT

Zach SmithContributor IDecember 27, 2009

TORONTO - MARCH 29:  Jaroslav Halak #41 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the game at Air Canada Centre on March 29, 2008 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

Canadiens' goalie Jaroslav Halak made 47 saves and winger Andrei Kostitsyn scored the overtime winner to lead Montreal to victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in yet another heart-breaking loss to a divisional rival for the Buds.

The Leafs found themselves in an early hole, down 2-0 after a powerplay goal by Scott Gomez. Then, just 54 seconds later, Tomas Pleckanec broke in past the defense and chipped one over Jonas Gustavsson's shoulder to put them up by a deuce.

However, after that, the Habs stopped playing and the Leafs took it to their original six rivals, putting many shots on goal in flurries and earning multiple powerplays for, including an extended two-man advantage in which they could not score. They continued their dominance going into the second period which eventually led to their first goal, scored by defenseman Ian White on a slapshot from the point.

After that, the tempo of the game picked up dramatically as the Leafs made it look as though they were facing a pewee team, getting more shots and scoring chances, being more physical, and showing that they really wanted to win this game in front of the home crowd, contrary to their play in the first five minutes of the game.

Once again to start the third, the Leafs kept taking it to them, which eventually led to Jason Blakes game-tying goal just minutes into the period. After a shot from the point found its way through traffic, it hit Halak and then bounced off a sprawling Jason Blake and into the yawning cage. After the goal was reviewed for any kicking or throwing motions, the call on the ice stood and it was a good goal.

Throughout the final frame, the Leafs continued to outplay Montreal in virtually every aspect of the game, both defensively and offensively. Halak held the Canadiens in it.

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In the dying minutes of the third, with the game still tied, the Leafs put up their longest sequence in the Canadiens' zone, firing shot after shot only to continuously be stopped by the Habs' netminder, including a chance by a snake-bitten Phil Kessel who shot the puck wide of the net with ten seconds remaining in regulation time.

The game went into overtime, which seems to be the norm when these two teams play. It did not take long, however, for a goal to be scored, and conveniently for Montreal, it came off of Andrei Kostitsyn's stick just 34 seconds into the extra frame, sending half of the building home in heartbreak, while the other half left with smiles on their face, knowing they got lucky, again.

Overall, it was a game that the Leafs should have won easily, and if not for a Vezina-like performance from Jaroslav Halak, they would have done just that. However, these are points that the Leafs must have, a divisional rival at home on a Saturday night are exactly games that the Leafs need to win in order to stay in the playoff race, and after tonight's loss, they fall to six points back of the Habs. The good news is they are still just five points out of the final playoff spot, meaning they did not lose any ground there.

Up next for the Leafs is a three game road trip in which they will travel to Pittsburgh, Edmonton, and Calgary. A 2-1 record on this trip is ideal for the Buds if they want to stay in the playoff race, a race that sees just an eight point difference between spots 14 and five in the Eastern Conference standings.