It’s the series we’ve waited more than 40 years for.
The Original Six rivals have had a few near misses at playoff matchups in the past, but this year marks the first time since 1979 that it’s come to pass.
Every time these two teams have met in a playoff series, the winner has gone on to win the Stanley Cup. And the last time the Maple Leafs won a playoff game against the Habs it was 1967 and, well, you know how that went. Is that the source of the 54-year curse?
Of course, the last time Montreal and Toronto were involved in a playoff series the NHL had only 17 teams and most of their playoff series on record occurred when it was a six-team league.
There’s a lot more to go through this time.
Here’s a look at the much-anticipated Leafs-Canadiens Round 1 series.
(5-on-5 via Natural Stat Trick)
Maple Leafs: 50.86 CF% (11th), 58.56 GF% (2nd), .925 SV% (6th), 9.74 SH% (3rd), 1.022 PDO (2nd)
Canadiens: 54.50 CF% (2nd), 50.72 GF% (16th), .914 SV% (22nd), 7.50 SH% (25th), 0.989 PDO (25th)
REGULAR SEASON TEAM STATS
Maple Leafs: 20.3 PP% (16th), 78.3 PK% (23rd), 3.35 GF/G (6th), 2.62 GA/G (7th)
Canadiens: 19.2 PP% (18th), 78.5 PK% (22nd), 2.82 GF/G (17th), 2.95 GA/G (18th)
Maple Leafs: 7-2-1
The way this season started, these two teams looked like they might be the best in the North. One of them stayed there, and the other settled in at the middle of the pack with a whole whack of questions.
The Leafs’ offence remains its primary strength and most teams won’t be able to compete with them in a shootout series. If the Habs start the playoffs as they played the second half of the season, they are probably among the teams that can’t.
At the same time, Toronto’s defence is much improved, finishing the season with the lowest shots against per game rate in the North. They may not be starting the goalie we thought they would be back in January, but Jack Campbell has done nothing but win with a 17-2-2 record.
The Leafs are also a tougher team than they’ve been in the past, but that’s the style Montreal needs to bring if they have any shot at winning this series. The Habs are at their best when they’re physical and the playoffs generally allow for that type of play to flourish. The Maple Leafs can hang better up against that now than before, but if physicality is the story of the series, that means the Leafs probably aren’t playing the way they’d prefer.
The Habs were also hammered by injuries to key players this season, but it sounds as though Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault, Shea Weber and Carey Price will all be in the lineup for Game 1. It’s not just enough for them to be playing, though – these are key players who need to be in peak form.
There is a wide range of outcomes to this series even if the regular season result paints the picture of a one-sided affair. If the Leafs’ power play wakes up, the Habs don’t do enough to slow the offence and Price is no better than he was in the regular season, Toronto could sweep this one. But the Habs can be a tough team to play against and if they come anywhere close to capturing what they were at the start of this season and find that offence, they could drag it out and even get themselves in a spot where they could win the rivalry. The Leafs have a lot more to lose here than the Habs.
Maple Leafs X-Factor: William Nylander
Toronto’s lightning rod player, Nylander finished the season strong with 18 points in his last 17 games, but that’s all out the window now. All along we knew the Leafs wouldn’t be measured by what they did in the regular season, but by how they performed in the playoffs. Since no one has been able to stop Auston Matthews and the top line all season in the North Division, Nylander as the primary scorer on the second line becomes a focus. Sometimes taking criticism for the perception of taking games or shifts off, Nylander needs to come up big and produce in the playoffs, especially in what should be a physically challenging series. If he can’t, the Leafs’ depth will be challenged and if it leads to another early exit, Nylander will catch the ire of Leafs Nation.
Canadiens X-Factor: Carey Price
The Habs will go as Price goes. It was another soft regular season for the Canadiens goalie, finishing with a .901 save percentage and 2.64 GAA that was very comparable to backup Jake Allen. At the end of the season, Price missed the last 13 games with a concussion but he got one AHL game in on Monday and is on track to return for Game 1. The Leafs will likely carry the flow of play through much of this series and Price will have to be better or else this will be a quick one. The good news for the Habs is Price has regularly elevated his play in the post-season — remember last summer’s bubble? He led the Habs to an upset over Pittsburgh and nearly did the same over the Flyers, finishing with a .936 save percentage. He is capable of completely stealing this one.