The Maple Leafs were without captain John Tavares after he sustained a concussion and knee injury on a scary collision 10 minutes into Toronto's 2-1 loss in Game 1 on Thursday night. He was released from a hospital Friday.
''It means a lot, not only for the guys in the locker room, but for John himself,'' Matthews said. ''He's such a big part of this team. When something really scary and serious goes down like it did the other night, the response from the group was unbelievable.''
Tavares messaged and spoke with teammates Thursday night from the hospital to let them know he was on the mend and to encourage them to push on without him.
''His leadership of our team, despite his situation, didn't stop,'' Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. ''That really helped put our guys in the right headspace.''
Matthews also had assists, William Nylander added goal and an assist, and Jason Spezza, Rasmus Sandin and Alexander Kerfoot, into an empty net, also scored. Jack Campbell stopped 22 shots, and Mitch Marner had two assists.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored for Montreal, and Carey Price stopped 29 shots.
The best-of-seven matchup between the Original Six rivals shifts to the Bell Centre for games Monday and Tuesday nights.
Toronto took its first lead of the series at 5:15 of the second period when Matthews - the NHL goals champion this season with 41 in 52 regular-season games - buried Justin Holl's rebound on an odd-man rush to make it 2-1.
Montreal interim head coach Dominique Ducharme challenged Sandin's goal that made it 3-1 for goalie interference on Joe Thornton despite there not appearing to be much contact, but the call stood after the referees took a long look.
Television cameras caught Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin in discussion with coaches in Montreal's private suite in the aftermath of the goal, but Ducharme said he made the final decision.
''We could see clearly that Thornton was touching (Price's) stick,'' he said. ''We had an angle where it was conclusive. It's my call, but everyone agreed that we had to challenge it.''
The failed challenge handed Toronto another power play, although the Canadiens survived to only be down two heading to the third.
''The momentum shifted in the second period,'' Ducharme said in reference to the officiating. ''We didn't change it and the Leafs didn't change it.''
Keefe said Montreal's decision to make the series as physical as possible contributed to the Canadiens being whistled for six straight penalties.
''They want to make it a war,'' he said. ''If you're going to do that, you're at risk of getting penalties called against you. That's our job as a power play to make them pay.''
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