This is the first time the two teams are meeting in the playoffs since 1979 and it does not look to disappoint.
The Leafs are heavily favored to win this series as they finished at the top of the North Division with 77 points. The Canadiens just squeezed into the fourth and final playoff sport with 59 points.
The Leafs also have had the Canadiens number this regular season after having a record of 7-2-1 head-to-head against the Habs.
That’s the regular season, however. The playoffs are a different breed and anything can happen. Lets look at how these teams match up against one another.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs have one of the most potent offenses in all of hockey. They have an influx of star power upfront that is rivaled by only few in the sport.
Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have proven to be an elite duo in the sport that cannot be stopped. The fire power does not stop there as they also have John Tavares and William Nylander on the second line. This lineup is a nightmare for opposing defenses.
The Leafs are also super deep and have seen a lot of secondary scoring from the likes of Zach Hyman and Jason Spezza with other guys like Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds and Alexander Kerfoot chipping in as well.
Offense is by far the strength of this Leafs team but their forward group is capable of much more. The Leafs have done a lot this off past off-season and in season to make this forward group much more versatile.
The acquisitions of Wayne Simmonds, Nick Foligno and Joe Thornton add an extra layer of grit to the lineup that it was lacking for a couple seasons.
Simmonds is ready for a physical series and thinks the Leafs have what it takes to give it to match the Canadiens physical play.
On Habs playing physical, Simmonds: That’s fine, we’re gonna play physical ourselves, I don’t think we expect anything less. It’s playoff time.
— David Alter (@dalter) May 19, 2021
Foligno, along with his Columbus Blue Jackets teammate, Riley Nash are very strong defensive forwards that can be a thorn in the Canadiens’ side for the whole series. The Leafs finally have the ability to create an actual shut down line with these two, especially when put with other strong defensive forwards like Ilya Mikheyev and Alexander Kerfoot.
The Montreal Canadieans are not nearly as strong as the Leafs when it comes to their forward group.
The Canadiens biggest threat on offense is Tyler Toffoli who had 28 goals this season. Outside of him, they have good players in Brendan Gallagher, Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki as well but this just wont be enough to compete with the Leafs offensively.
Cole Caufield may not even be a factor in this series as it is being reported that he may not even make the opening lineup for the Habs.
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Toffoli – Suzuki – Armia
Perry – Staal – Anderson
Byron – Evans – Lehkonen
Frolik – Kotkaniemi – Caufield
Edmundson – Petry
Merrill – Weber
Kulak – Chiarot
Romanov – Gustafsson/Ouellet
— John Lu (@JohnLuTSNMtl) May 19, 2021
As mentioned earlier, the Canadiens bring a physical style of play as they led the league in hits. Josh Anderson and Corey Perry are definitely not fun to play against in that regard. With that being said, the Leafs have added what they need to counter act that and it should not be much of an advantage over the Leafs.
The Canadiens do have a lot of forwards that can play strong defensively like Phillip Danault but they just cannot provide enough offense as a whole to be much of a threat.
Advantage: Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs forward is just far too strong for very many teams to contain. It is an extremely versatile group that is among the best in the NHL.
When it comes to going up against the Canadiens, simply put, it is a mismatch in every sense of the word. They are more skilled, faster, more defensively responsible and can match what the Habs bring physically.
The Buds are poised for a deep playoff run and a big part of that will be this forward group.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs have vastly improved their defense this season. They rank sixth this season in the NHL in goals against.
Preventing goals has a lot to do with the arrival of TJ Brodie. Brodie is one of the best defensive defensemen in the NHL and is easily the best signing of the off-season made by General manager Kyle Dubas. Jake Muzzin, Zach Bogosian and Justin Holl have also has very strong defensive seasons as well.
One other thing the Leafs defense does very well is move the puck. They have been great in transition and can turn defense into offense pretty quickly. The Leafs defense can generate a lot of offense because of this, especially through Morgan Rielly who is one of the top offensive blue liners in the sport.
Jake Muzzin and Zach Bogosian also bring a physical presence to the back end which will help counter act the Canadiens’ physical game.
The Leafs’ defense is better than it has ever been in years and it has shown to be capable of more than just keeping the puck out of the net.
The Montreal Canadiens do one thing decently well and that is prevent scoring chances. they are in top half of the league in both expected goals against and high danger chances against.
This could help to contain the Leafs very strong forward group but they have failed to do so in their regular season meetings at least.
The Canadiens defense is pretty one dimensional in this regard. Jeff Petry can provide some offense from the blue line and outside of a Shea Weber slapshot on the powerplay, there is not much more offense being generated from the backend.
The biggest weakness of this defensive core is the lack of any good puck movers. The Canadiens are a terrible team in transition and struggle with zone exits. This works to the Leafs’ advantage as this will lead to prolonged offensive zone time. There will be ample opportunities for the Leafs to score.
The lack of versatility from the Canadiens defense could be a glaring weakness in their all around game. This is a recipe for disaster against a team with as much talent as the Leafs.
The Toronto Maple Leafs defensive core is capable of so much more than what the Canadiens’ bring.
As the Habs can limit the amount of scoring chances the Leafs will have, it is going to take more than that to stop an offense as potent of the Leafs is.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs have confirmed Jack Campbell as the starter for game one and this does not seem to change. Campbell has been great this season and has easily won the starting job over Frederik Andersen for the time being.
Campbell put up a record of 17-3-2 this season and has looked sharp all season. His .921 save percentage ranks in the top 10 in the league among goalies who have played at least 20 games this season.
One thing that is great about Jack Campbell is he is great at coming up big when he is needed to which is exactly what is needed out of your goalie in the playoffs.
Carey Price is expected to be the starter for the Montreal Canadiens in game one. With the way Carey Price has struggles this season, it would not be surprising at all if Jake Allen slots into a game.
Things have not looked good for Carey Price at all this season. He has struggled on the ice and has also had to fight injuries all season long. Not only did he struggle in a tune up game against the Toronto Marlies in the AHL on Monday night, he has also been struggling in practice and was visibly frustrated with himself.
Carey Price wasn’t happy after letting in this goal during practice today. 😳 pic.twitter.com/ZK0ubxUX5V
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 19, 2021
The Canadiens will need Carey Price to play to the best of his abilities if they want a chance to win this series. One thing about Price is he seems to have the ability to turn back the clock and stand on his head. With that being said, and watching his performance this season, it is not something to count on this post season.
The key to goaltending is consistency and Jack Campbell has been nothing but that for this season.
There is always that Carey Price can find another gear but that is nothing to count on based on what we have seen from him this season.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are far and away the better team in this series and completely out match the Montreal Canadiens.
The Leafs have done everything they needed to do to make sure there is no repeats of what happened in the bubble. This a team built for a long playoff run from the top to bottom. If the Leafs just stick to their game, they will outplay the Canadiens pretty easily.
If the Habs want any chance at winning this series, Carey Price will need to step up his game and stand on his head. Even then, the Habs would need so much more to go their way. There is no other situation where the Habs can realistically win this series barring any major injuries. They just do not have the roster to keep up the what the Maple Leafs bring.
Final Verdict: Leafs in 5