Patched-up Maple Leafs lineup emerges with win in Montreal

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Running a fire drill at this time of the season never hurts.

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The Maple Leafs had one Saturday, with two key players out, two new ones in, and altered lines and defensive pairings, before emerging with a 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

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John Tavares’ third-period goal broke the tie as Toronto played without injured sniper Mitch Marner, made defenceman Simon Benoit a healthy scratch and unveiled defenceman Joel Edmundson and centre Connor Dewar.

They survived a 6-on-4 and 6-on-5 in the final minutes, with Ilya Samsonov making the last of his 29 saves.

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While the Leafs are trying to get dialled in on defence for April, they beat Montreal by creating several odd-man rushes that resulted in their first goals. But gifted a power play to open the third period, Toronto created zero pressure, then gave up the tying goal to Alex Newhook with Timothy Liljegren in the box.

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Tavares drove the net for his 20th  of the year, the 14th time in his NHL career he’s reached that milestone, knocking in a long, well-placed Jake McCabe point shot and survived a late Calle Jarnkrok penalty.

Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe came back from the team’s day off to find Marner was unavailable with a lower body issue, possibly an ankle, after falling awkwardly on a scoring chance late in Thursday’s 4-1 loss to Boston. With a four-day break after the Montreal game, it made sense to rest him and gave Keefe an excuse to move Tyler Bertuzzi back up to Auston Matthews’s line, an early season experiment which the coach wanted to re-visit before playoffs. William Nylander was placed on the right side in Marner’s spot, with regular left winger Matthew Knies at least able to start after leaving Thursday’s game in Boston when he collided with Brad Marchand.

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The new first line was caught up ice on its first shift when Ilya Lyubushkin’s drop pass was picked off and defenceman Mike Matheson beat a cold Samsonov with a nice deke. A near-10 minute delay for a broken pane of glass allowed Toronto to re-focus and that line, as well as Knies, David Kampf and Bobby McMann, who generated many of Toronto’s nine shots in the period.

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The trio was rewarded with the starting shift of the middle period, with McMann stealing the puck at Toronto’s line and working his way to a 2-on-1 with Knies. Hanging on to the puck, he flicked in his 10th of the year.

Max Domi, back on the left side in this temporary alignment with Tavares at centre and Jarnkrok on the right, busted through two Habs for a breakaway go-ahead goal versus his old team late in the second.

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It was much harder for Keefe to tell Benoit he was sitting a game in his hometown as a healthy scratch as he worked Edmundson into the lineup and tried to assess the most workable pairs of right and left-handed defencemen.

Morgan Rielly marked his 30th birthday, but it included two minutes for interference that negated Toronto’s first power play.

Dewar’s taste of action included the penalty kill role he’ll be filling when McMann served a second-period minor.

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There was no clarity in the standings on the Leafs’ first round opponent as Boston and Florida both won on Saturday to stay nine and 10 points ahead, respectively.

Samsonov played well again after Joseph Woll absorbed a couple of 4-1 losses to Boston.

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