By the time the Toronto Maple Leafs (35-14-7) and Montreal Canadiens (24-21-11) take to the ice for Game One of their first round playoff series, three other playoff series will already have either started or completed the third game of their series. The NHL still hasn’t given a clear answer as to why the North Division started so much later than other divisions, other than to say they wanted to wait until all North Division teams had finished playing (even though Calgary and Vancouver played each other three times after everyone else was done without either team being remotely eligible for the playoffs.

But back to the series at hand. After having a bit of extra time to get healthy at the beginning of the playoffs, the Maple Leafs and Canadiens are finally ready to take to the ice for their first playoff series against each other in 42 years.

In this Maple Leafs vs Canadiens series preview, I’ll break down all you need to know before Toronto and Montreal take the ice, along with a winning pick for who will advance in the 2021 NHL Playoffs.

Maple Leafs vs Canadiens Series Schedule

GAME ONE: Thursday, May 20, 7:30 P.M.
GAME TWO: Saturday, May 22, 7:00 P.M.
GAME THREE: Monday, May 24, TBD
GAME FOUR: Tuesday, May 25, TBD
GAME FIVE*: Thursday, May 27, TBD
GAME SIX*: Saturday, May 29, TBD
GAME SEVEN*: Monday, May 31, TBD

* = if needed, all times Eastern

Maple Leafs vs Canadiens Regular Season Results

January 15: Maple Leafs 5, Canadiens 4 (OT)
February 10: Maple Leafs 4, Canadiens 2
February 13: Canadiens 2, Maple Leafs 1
February 20: Maple Leafs 5, Canadiens 3
April 7: Maple Leafs 3, Canadiens 2
April 12: Canadiens 4, Maple Leafs 2
April 28: Maple Leafs 4, Canadiens 1
May 3: Canadiens 3, Maple Leafs 2 (OT)
May 6: Maple Leafs 5, Canadiens 2
May 8: Maple Leafs 3, Canadiens 2

Goaltenders

 

Maple Leafs vs Canadiens

 

MAPLE LEAFS:

Jack Campbell: 17-3-2, 2.15 GAA, .921 save percentage, two shutouts
Frederik Andersen: 13-8-3, 2.96 GAA, .895 save percentage
Michael Hutchinson: 4-2-1, 2.42 GAA, .9191 save percentage, one shutout
David Rittich (combined stats, traded from Calgary at deadline): 5-8-2, 2.86 GAA, .901 save percentage, one shutout

CANADIENS:

Carey Price: 12-7-5, 2.64 GAA, .901 save percentage, one shutout
Jake Allen: 11-12-5, 2.68 GAA, .907 save percentage

Injury Report

MAPLE LEAFS:

Ben Hutton – Undisclosed, expected return: May 20
Zach Bogosian – Shoulder, expected return: May 20

CANADIENS:

Phillip Danault – Concussion, expected return: May 20
Jonathan Drouin – Personal Reasons, expected return: September 2021
Brendan Gallagher – Thumb, expected return: May 20
Kaiden Guhle – Hand, expected return: May 20
Ryan Poehling – Wrist, expected return: September 2021
Jeff Petry – Undisclosed, expected return: May 20

Special Teams

MAPLE LEAFS:

Power Play: 20.0% (31/155), 16th in NHL, seven shorthanded goals against
Penalty Kill: 78.5% (113/144), tied for 23rd in NHL, three shorthanded goals

CANADIENS:

Power Play: 19.2% (29/151), 17th in NHL, two shorthanded goals against
Penalty Kill: 78.5% (135/172), tied for 23rd in NHL, nine shorthanded goals (tied for league-most)

Maple Leafs vs Canadiens Storylines

 

Maple Leafs vs Canadiens

 

Every time the Maple Leafs and Canadiens have met in the playoffs, the winner has advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals. However, given they haven’t met in the playoffs in 42 years, there were fewer teams to contend with back then.

Montreal is not expected to play young forwards Cole Caufield (four goals, one assist in 10 games, two overtime game-winners including against Toronto) and Jesperi Kotkaniemi (five goals, 15 assists in 56 games), or defenseman Alexander Romanov (one goal, five assists in 51 games) in Game One, opting to go for a “more experienced” lineup.

Auston Matthews was on a scoring tear this season, lighting the lamp 41 times to lead the league (the next closest player was Connor McDavid with 33). However, he finished behind teammate Mitch Marner in the points race. Marner ended the year with 67 points (20 goals, 47 assists) while Matthews had 66.

Carey Price is expected to start in net in Game One after a conditioning stint with the AHL club, Laval Rocket. Price last played on April 19 when he suffered a concussion. He ranks fourth in franchise history in playoff games played (70), trailing legendary goaltenders Patrick Roy (114), Ken Dryden (112), and Jacques Plante (90). His career playoff record is 30-36-0, along with a 2.43 GAA, a .917 save percentage, and seven shutouts.

Jack Campbell is the expected playoff starter for Toronto. While Andersen has held the starting role in recent years, his injuries and performance will relegate him to a backup role for Game One, and probably beyond that.

Toronto has lost in the first round (or qualifying round) of the playoffs in each of the last four seasons; each of the last three playoff series went the distance but saw the Maple Leafs come up short. Montreal advanced past the qualifying round with a stunning upset of the Pittsburgh Penguins (three games to one) before losing in the first round to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Canadiens failed to qualify for the playoffs each of the two seasons prior and they have not advanced to the second round since the 2014-15 playoffs.

Series Prediction

Toronto’s all-out offensive game plan should have the upper hand in the series. It’s the best unit between either of the teams, and the Maple Leafs added some grit at the trade deadline, bringing in Nick Foligno from Columbus. However, the Maple Leafs’ defensive group is once again a major concern.

On the other hand, Montreal will struggle to keep up offensively in this series. With a slew of players injured, the surprising decision to leave Caufield and Kotkaniemi out of the lineup for Game One, and a lack of scoring depth behind Tyler Toffoli (28 goals, 16 assists) and Josh Anderson (17 goals, seven assists), the Canadiens will be in trouble in they fall behind early in the series.

I expect Toronto to make quick work of the Canadiens, but then again, it IS Toronto, and they’ve collapsed in epic fashion in recent years to the point where it seems like a curse. Montreal is good enough to avoid a sweep, but I don’t think they can hold serve with the Maple Leafs in the long run.

SERIES PREDICTION: Toronto Maple Leafs in five games.

 

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