The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, a tale as old as time. After an up-and-down season in La Belle Province, the Canadiens find themselves playoff-bound for the second-consecutive year after a 24-21-11 overall record in the regular season. Their first-round opponents? The North Division champion Toronto Maple Leafs, who finished the regular season with an impressive 35-14-7 record through 56 games.
This matchup marks the first playoff meeting between these two clubs since 1979. In addition, it promises to be an absolute dandy between two of the original six franchises. What can fans of each team expect from this scintillating matchup? Who has the upper hand going into Game 1, and who ultimately comes out on top? Let’s break it all down.
You can find the rest of our first round previews here.
On Sunday, Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe announced that Jack Campbell will man the pipes when the series kicks off tomorrow evening in Toronto. Although Frederik Andersen has been “lurking around” of late, Campbell gets the nod–and rightfully so. After posting a whopping 17-3-2 record this season to go along with a 2.15 goals against average (GAA) and .921 save percentage, it’s Campbell’s crease to lose, at least to start the postseason.
200 feet away on the opposite end of the rink stands Carey Price. Although Jake Allen carried the torch for most of the season in Montreal, expect Price to get the start in goal for the Habs. When he is on top of his game, few can match the skill level and overall brilliance that Price brings. It goes without saying that he’ll have to be at the top of his game if the Canadiens are to have any hope of defeating the high-flying Leafs.
Given Price’s acumen and sterling reputation as one of the very best goalies in the game, give the Habs the edge in the crease.
Toronto’s defensive core will have a different look and feel to it in these playoffs as opposed to last summer. Cody Ceci, Tyson Barrie, and Martin Marincin are out, while Rasmus Sandin and T.J. Brodie are in for the blue and white. The Leafs blue-line is much improved this time around and have proven to be a formidable and resilient group all season long in the all-Canadian North Division.
On the other side of the spectrum lies the Canadiens’ defense, which seems to have more questions than answers ahead of this series. For starters, Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme opted for Jon Merrill on the back end rather than hard-hitting rookie Alexander Romanov. Given their inconsistencies this season and uncertainty surrounding team captain and defensive stalwart Shea Weber, the Habs blue-line is in for a mammoth challenge.
Defense wins championships. Although that is a massive cliche, it does hold merit for this playoff series in particular. Give the nod to the Leafs as the team with the superior defense core.
It’s tough to win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs without exceptional special teams play. In the case of the Leafs, they had the 16th-ranked power play (20.3 percent). On the penalty kill, they ranked 23rd (78.3 percent). Their own power play was much maligned over the past 15-20 games as it failed to gain any traction. With Toronto’s “big boys” in Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares up front, look for their PP unit to be a telling factor in the series.
The Canadiens special teams unit forms a close correlation with that of Toronto’s. The Habs ranked 18th on the power-play (18.2 percent) and 22nd on the penalty-kill (78.5 percent). They even have their own rendition of uber-talent upfront with the likes of Nick Suzuki and Brendan Gallagher, who is set to return from injury.
If they can stay out of the penalty box and limit Toronto’s time and space specifically on special teams, the Habs own the edge in this category.
When you think of the Toronto Maple Leafs, one word comes to mind: scoring. Just ask the likes of Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Hyman and Tavares. Few teams in the NHL possess the top-six firepower that Toronto does. If this club plans on making a deep playoff run this summer, their offense is going to have to be a major difference-maker. With Nick Foligno now on board after coming over in a trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets, all of the pieces are in place for a deep and talented Leafs club.
Things aren’t as peachy on the Montreal side of things for a Canadiens team that has struggled to score goals all season long. Not only do they struggle to produce offense, but their knack for scoring and confidence in front of goal is severely lacking from top to bottom. Only time will tell as this series unravels whether or not this will still bode true for the Habs.
This one’s easy-give the Leafs the edge from an offensive point of view.
Like in 2019-20, Auston Matthews was likely robbed of a 50-goal season for the second consecutive year. You have the COVID-19 pandemic to thank for that. However, the virus didn’t stop Matthews from taking home the Rocket Richard Trophy after leading the NHL in goals with 41 in 52 games played. Simply remarkable. For a team as talented as the Leafs, Matthews is certainly the “straw that stirs the drink.” A gifted scorer and one of the most dominant centers in the game, all eyes will be on the Scottsdale, Arizona native when the puck drops tomorrow evening at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto for Game 1.
With the health of Shea Weber a major question mark, it’s Jeff Petry‘s blue-line (like it has been all season) for Montreal. An absolute greyhound of a skater, Petry is this team’s Swiss Army Knife because of his ability to play in all three zones and in every situation. From a statistical perspective, Petry skated in 55 games this year, with 12 goals and 42 points. He also averaged 22:44 worth of ice time with a plus-six rating. Look for Petry to log heavy minutes this series, and he (and the Habs) look to use the Buds.
This past season saw Sheldon Keefe become the first head coach in Maple Leafs history to amass 61 wins through his first 100 games behind the bench. He’s savvy, willing to adapt to any situation, and does his best to insert energy, fortitude, and versatility into his lineup at all times. A dark horse candidate for the Jack Adams as coach of the year, Keefe has been nothing short of spectacular behind the bench in Toronto.
After the dismissal of Claude Julien, Ducharme was brought in to help steer the ship in the right direction in Montreal. Although that ride was anything but smooth sailing, when all was said and done the Habs qualified for the postseason. Under Ducharme’s tutelage, they went 15-16-5 over the course of 36 games. A long shot to be back behind the bench next year, Ducharme has his work cut out for him if he is to gain the upper hand over Keefe.
Keefe wins the head-to-head coaching matchup by a country mile.
Did someone say bragging rights? When it comes to which team is superior, it’s a never-ending saga amongst Toronto and Montreal fans from across Canada. On paper, this series looks like a fairly straightforward victory for the Maple Leafs. If that bodes true, it’ll be Toronto’s first playoff series win in 17 years dating back to 2004. Standing in their way are the Canadiens, who will hope to spoil the party. All indications point to Toronto defeating the Habs… but you just never know in the NHL.
Series Prediction: Maple Leads 4-2
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