Toronto blanks Montreal 4-0 for a 3-1 lead in playoff series

MONTREAL (AP) — Alex Galchenyuk had plenty of memorable nights inside the Bell Centre. His latest standout performance pushed his former team to the brink of playoff elimination.

Galchenyuk set up two goals and scored into the empty net against his former team, Jack Campbell made 32 saves in his first playoff shutout, and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-0 on Tuesday night for a 3-1 lead in their first-round series.

“It’s the playoffs, man,” Galchenyuk said when asked if he still speaks with anyone on the other team. “You know what time it is right now.

“There’s no friends.”

Galchenyuk was a healthy scratch in Game 1 before coming into the lineup when captain John Tavares was injured in a scary collision.

“Whatever role our team asks him to play, he comes in and does it tremendously,” said Campbell. “It’s not easy to come in and out of the lineup, but whenever he’s in, he’s given us a spark.”

Jason Spezza had a goal and an assist and William Nylander and Joe Thornton also scored for Toronto, which can wrap up the best-of-seven series at home Thursday in Game 5. Alexander Kerfoot had three assists.

“Scoring, defending, checking, all the way through the lineup, the guys dug down,” said Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe. “A lot of great efforts all the way.”

Carey Price stopped 24 shots for Montreal. The Canadiens have scored just four times in 12 periods against Campbell in the first playoff series between the teams since 1979.

“We’re playing against another team,” Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme said. “If we were going 5-on-0, we’d go up and down the ice the way we want.”

The Leafs, who won consecutive post-season games in Montreal for the first time since the 1967 Stanley Cup final on the heels of Monday’s 2-1 victory, haven’t advanced to the second round since 2004.

Toronto is 11-1 all-time when leading a series 3-1 — a situation the Maple Leafs haven’t found themselves in since 1987.

If the Canadiens can force a Game 6 in Montreal on Saturday, the Quebec government will allow 2,500 fans into the Bell Centre, which would be the first NHL crowd in Canada since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

“We should be hungry next game to come back for our fans,” Montreal center Phillip Danault said.

Toronto opened the scoring 1:27 into the second period when Nylander scored his fourth goal in as many games in the series after taking a slick behind-the-back feed in tight from Galchenyuk on an odd-man rush.

Campbell stopped Eric Staal at the other end on the next shift before Joel Armia fanned on a great chance later in the period. The Maple Leafs broke the other way with Galchenyuk sending a pass to Spezza, who scored his second of the series on a 2-on-1 at 12:28.

The North Division’s No. 1 seed, Toronto kept the pressure on, and Thornton made it 3-0 just 2:28 later on a power play when he redirected a feed from Spezza at the side of Price’s net. At 41 years and 327 days, the veteran forward became the oldest Toronto player to record a playoff point, passing both Ron Francis and the late Allan Stanley (both 41 years, 62 days).

Thornton also became the oldest Maple Leafs player to score in the postseason, passing Patrick Marleau (38 years, 222 days).

The goal was Toronto’s third with the man advantage in the series after finishing the regular season a dismal 5 for 73 on the power play.

Montreal’s power play — 0 for 13 in the series — got another opportunity late in the period, but Brendan Gallagher’s shot that beat Campbell clanked off the post.

Galchenyuk scored into an empty net for the first three-point playoff game of his career.

“He’s handled himself extremely well,” Keefe said of Galchenyuk. “He just has a great passion for the game. He’s fit in very well, and he’s earned the respect of his teammates through the attitude that he’s brought and through the work ethic and how he’s played on the ice.

“He’s an important part of our team. A night like tonight is a good example.”

NOTES: The Leafs were minus captain John Tavares (concussion, knee) and forward Nick Foligno (lower-body injury), while defenceman Travis Dermott got the nod ahead of Rasmus Sandin, and center Adam Brooks took Riley Nash’s spot. … Staal returned to the Canadiens’ lineup after missing Game 3, but Artturi Lehknonen, who left Monday’s contest in the first period, and Jake Evans, out for a third straight game, were scratched.

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