The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens will clash in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, meeting in the post-season for the first time since 1979.
Toronto enters the first round series as North Division champs, holding a 35-14-7 record good for 77 points. The division title was their first since seizing the Northeast Division in 2000. The Maple Leafs were dominant in this regular season, but they still have plenty to prove in the playoffs as they haven’t won a series since 2004.
But not for nothing, this was one of the best pure seasons in franchise history for Toronto. They posted a points percentage of .688, topping the .679 posted by the 1950-1951 Maple Leafs. That team won the Stanley Cup by defeating the Canadiens in five games, each of which went into overtime.
This year’s version of the Habs posted a 24-21-11 record this season, slipping into the fourth spot in the North Division with 59 points. They are six points ahead of the Calgary Flames, who will play the last game of their regular season Wednesday.
The Habs scored 159 goals this season and allowed 168 goals against for a differential of minus-nine, the worst such stat among North Division playoff challengers. Toronto scored a division-high 187 goals and conceded 148 goals against for a differential of plus-39.
The Canadiens have good news entering Game One on Thursday, as both Carey Price and Shea Weber are set to return. Weber has been out with an upper body injury and missed the last eight games, while Price hasn’t played since sustaining a concussion in Edmonton on April 19.
Obviously, Montreal will have to figure out how to handle Auston Matthews. The Toronto forward led the NHL with 41 goals in the regular season, including 10 on the man advantage. He was second on the Maple Leafs in scoring with 66 points, while Mitch Marner had 67 points in 55 games. The 24-year-old from Markham had 14 points on the power play, all assists.
Tyler Toffoli enters the series as Montreal’s top scorer. He put up 28 goals and 16 assists for 44 points in 52 games. Defenceman Jeff Petry is second in scoring with 42 points in 55 games, including a dozen goals. Forward Nick Suzuki had 41 points in 56 games, including 15 goals.
On the man advantage, the Canadiens and Maple Leafs sit right in the middle of the pack. Toronto’s power play clicked along at just 20 percent, good for 16th overall. The Habs pulled in with a 19.2 percent power play, good for 17th in the league and knotting them with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Both teams were likewise neighbours on the penalty kill. Both posted a PK of 78.5 percent. Montreal did pick up nine short-handed goals in the regular season, compared to Toronto collecting three goals down a man.
The Maple Leafs hold the offensive advantage on paper, but goaltending is another story. Jack Campbell is on tap to get the nod for Game One. He went 17-3-2 this season, with a .921 save percentage and a 2.15 goals against average. The 29-year-old is playing the best hockey of his career and head coach Sheldon Keefe has every confidence in him as a starter.
That puts Frederik Andersen in an interesting position, as he’s clearly lost the starting gig in Toronto. He missed 24 of the last 25 games of the season due to a knee injury, but he says he feels good and ready to play. The aim is to ride the hot hand, but there’s also David Rittich to consider.
With Price back in the lineup, the Habs have an edge. The 33-year-old played for the AHL’s Laval Rocket along with Brendan Gallagher on Monday, a one-off conditioning stint designed to charge the engines. Price went 12-7-5 this season, with a .901 save percentage and a 2.64 goals against average. It’s well off his career best, but expectations are high he’ll turn it on in the post-season.
Pic: Nathan Denette/CP