The Montreal Canadiens had a lot riding on their effort against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 2-1 come-from-behind victory at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday.
Losers of three out of their last four games, another loss for Montreal would justify any cynic who cast doubt over the team's 7-1-2 start to the season.
Perhaps worse, they'd have to carry that feeling for a whole week with their next game not scheduled until the following Saturday.
The Maple Leafs appeared set to deliver the dagger.
Mitch Marner opened the scoring when he was left alone in the slot. He collected a behind-the-net pass from Auston Matthews for a 1-0 lead at 3:36 of the first period.
Toronto continued to attack, but Montreal began to push back in the late stages of the opening frame.
That's where the game got away from the Leafs.
"We had more than enough offense there in the first (period) to blow this game wide open, and didn't capitalize," Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. "It didn't go our way and then our game was a mess from there."
That same period saw the only power play of the game and it went to Toronto after Montreal's Tyler Toffoli was called for holding at 15:35. The Leafs looked out of sorts trying to get organized in Montreal's zone. They managed just one shot on goal on the opportunity and it was from 31 feet away.
At even strength, Montreal had more shot attempts than Toronto (16-15).
The second period didn't see any scoring, but the Canadiens began to wear down the Leafs and had 39 hits through 40 minutes compared to seven from Toronto.
Typically, a large number of hits can be a side effect from not possessing the puck, but Montreal continued to widen the gap in even-strength shot attempts.
Montreal got on the scoreboard in the third period with Toffoli scoring at the tail end of a tic-tac-toe sequence from Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher at 6:11.
Gallagher scored the winning goal when he knocked down a Jeff Petry shot and put the puck past Frederik Andersen at 16:53.
"They came in, obviously, with a sense of urgency with the way the last few games have gone for them and they played hard," John Tavares said.
The Leafs fell to 11-3-1 and picked up their first regulation loss since Jan. 20. It was also the first time they dropped a game in regulation time when leading after the first or second period.
Montreal had 23 shot attempts in the third compared to 12 from Toronto, who had a hard time setting up for a substantial attack.
"On our dumps and rims, we couldn't keep it away from Carey Price," Auston Matthews said. "He's like a third defenceman back there."
Matthews' assist on Marner's goal in the first period extended his point-scoring streak to 12 games.
Although that provided some explanation for Toronto's inability to generate offense, Keefe focused on Montreal's ability to wear Toronto down.
"I do think that's part of what made us tired," Keefe said. "We had real long shift lengths where we just couldn't get off the ice consuming other passes."
Leafs defensemen Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin each averaged at least a minute of ice time per shift. Rielly clocked in at a team-high 1:03.
The Leafs weren't going to win them all this season. Three-and-a-half weeks without a regulation loss is a torrid pace that placates any elite team.
Montreal needed it more. And they turned up the fire when they made forward Tomas Tatar, who has four goals and four assists this season, a healthy scratch.
"We expect more from Tomas Tatar, not just in terms of production but also in his overall game," Julien said.
Back to that power play
What was a big strength for the Maple Leafs is slowly becoming a weakness. Since Wayne Simmonds went down with a wrist injury, Toronto is 0-for-5 with the man advantage.
"You know, that maybe is an area you could look at where things started to go south on us for a little bit," Keefe said.
Joe Thornton (rib) is eligible to come off the long-term injured reserve as soon Sunday.
If his jersey colour switches from grey to a different colour, the veteran could make his return and give the power play a much-needed boost.
Tavares line needs help
John Tavares has just one even-strength goal this season and William Nylander has scored two goals in his last 14 games.
Perhaps Thornton fills that spot if he comes into the lineup. But another player needs to help in that spot.
The Ilya Mikheyev experiment on the line is running out of time.