This is the first time the two Original Six rivals will meet in the playoffs since 1979 and it looks to not disappoint.
These two teams cannot be any more different in how they play the game. The Maple Leafs are loaded with star power upfront and play a high-octane, offensive game. The Leafs have also bolstered up the blue line and also deliver a defensively sound team unlike years prior.
The Canadiens, on the other hand, might be a defensively sound team but seem to struggle with offense. They bring a deep lineup but just do not have that game breaker they can depend on.
With all the depth the Leafs have in their elusive lineup, some tough decisions will have to be made come Game 1 on Thursday night.
Here is what the Toronto Maple Leafs game one lineup should look like.
Line 1: Zach Hyman – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner
This is one line that all Leafs fans can agree on. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have proven to be one of the best duos in the NHL this season. Zach Hyman has not played a game since sustaining a knee injury on April 18th against the Canucks but it is looking like he will be ready to go for game one.
Zach Hyman says his return to game action is “right around the corner”
Feeling good during practices@TSN_Edge
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) May 10, 2021
With the addition of Zach Hyman, it adds a whole other element to this line that the Habs just cannot compete with. This line should be able to have their way against whoever the Canadiens decide to throw out to try and contain them with.
Line 2: Alex Galchenyuk – John Tavares – William Nylander
Aside from John Tavares and William Nylander, who are absolute locks to be on the second line, there is some controversy surrounding Alex Galchenyuk and if he should be in the lineup come playoff time. The answer to this controversy? Yes. He has absolutely earned a spot in the playoff lineup.
There is a lot to be said about Galchenyuk and how much he has improved since joining the Leafs. Sure, he may only have 11 points in 25 games with the team so far, but he is the perfect complimentary player for this line.
Since joining the Leafs, he has done a great job at creating offense in this role. It may not show on the stat sheet, but he is making life much easier for Tavares and Nylander on that line.
In fact, Tavares has 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in the 25 games he’s played with Galchenyuk on his wing. Nylander has also benefited from having Galchenyuk as he has 18 points (5 goals, 13 assists) in 20 games alongside Galchenyuk.
If it ain’t broken, don’t try and fix it.
Line 3: Nick Foligno – Alexander Kerfoot – Ilya Mikheyev
This is what the Toronto Maple Leafs shutdown line would look like.
There’s a lot of chatter online about Nick Foligno being in the top six. It’s a valid argument, for sure, but the lineup can be maximized with Foligno playing on the third line. Foligno is an excellent defensive forward who can also provide some offense. The same can be said about Alexander Kerfoot. Ilya Mikheyev is also an excellent defensive forward but also brings speed that is rivaled by only few in the league. That’s a huge asset.
Let’s talk about Mikheyev. There has also been a lot of chatter online that Mikheyev should be the odd man out come playoff time. The thing is with Mikheyev is he is far too valuable to leave out of the lineup in the most important time of the year.
He is an elite penalty killer, his speed alone is such a valuable asset and he is tremendous defensively. His true value will be noticed during this time of the year. Especially in a potential showdown against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.
What is great about having a line like this one is it takes a huge load off of the top line. This third line can be sent out against the Canadiens’ top line and it will do what it needs to do; prevent them from scoring. This would leave the Leafs’ top two lines to feast on lesser competition and dominate the play on ice.
Another great thing about this line is they are all absolute jerks to play against. We know what Foligno brings to the table in that regard, but both Kerfoot and Mikheyev bring that “edginess” too. With Kerfoot, he’s not the biggest but he’s not afraid to mix it up in the corners and after the whistle. Same can be said about Mikheyev, just more subtly.
Teams are going to absolutely HATE playing against this line and Toronto Maple Leafs fans should love that.
Line 4: Joe Thornton – Jason Spezza – Wayne Simmonds
What year is this? Imagine how great this line would have been ten years ago. Well, they may all may be near the end of their careers but this line can really be effective in the playoffs.
Let’s get this out of the way…this line will be atrocious defensively, but that’s perfectly okay. This fourth line will not play much but when they do will they be a thorn in the side of the Canadiens.
First of all, how many people want to play against Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds at the same time? Let’s take a wild guess and say not many, if anyone at all would want to. Simmonds can still play his signature bang and crash style and be very tough to play against and Joe Thornton can get under the skin of anyone in this league. We all saw what he did to Nikolaj Ehlers just a few weeks ago.
Now, imagine all of that with Jason Spezza skating around like it’s 2006 or something. All together, this makes for the perfect fourth line.
As mentioned earlier, this line is not the best defensively so they would probably only get offensive zone starts and they will be able to run amuck for a minute to give an extra breathe for the top two lines when needed.
Pair 1: Morgan Rielly – TJ Brodie
No surprises here. This has been the top pairing all season long and it will not change come playoff time.
Morgan Rielly can generate a ton of offense from the back end. He definitely has his warts defensively but is probably one of the best offensive defensemen in the game.
TJ Brodie on the other hand might be one of the best defensive defensemen in the game. With Rielly being the way that he is, it can lead to a lot of odd man rushes and Brodie has done a tremendous job at keeping those in check.
The two compliment each other very well and play against top competition while eating up useful minutes. This should be a very effective pairing for the Toronto Maple Leafs this post-season.
Pair 2: Jake Muzzin – Justin Holl
Muzzin is having himself a fantastic season and is probably the Leafs’ best all around defensemen.
Holl had a very strong start to the season but has kind of fallen back to earth this season. Nonetheless, he can still bring strong defensive play while also being a factor in transition.
This pairing played a big part in keeping Connor McDavid scoreless in three straight games against the Oilers earlier in the year.
Expect to see this pairing out late in close games to shut things down and bring home a win.
Pair 3: Rasmus Sandin – Travis Dermott
This is where things get interesting.
In the few games they played together, Sandin and Dermott really impressed.
Sandin can also quarterback a power-play which is something no one can really do effectively other than Rielly so that’s another reason why Sandin could make the game one lineup.
Both Dermott and Sandin can also hold their own physically. Blake Wheeler had to learn that the hard way a few weeks ago.
Starter: Jack Campbell
Jack Campbell as the starter should not come as a surprise to anyone. He has had a fantastic season.
After starting the season 11-0, he had a shaky couple of games but was able to find his game again and has a record this season of 17-2-2.
One thing that has been great about Campbell is his ability to find his game. If he is off to a shaky start and allows an early goal, he always seems to find a way to gather himself and find his game.
He has been stellar all season and it has become his crease to lose in Toronto.
Backup: Frederik Andersen
The once reliable Frederik Andersen will serve as the Toronto Maple Leafs backup for the playoffs.
Andersen has been battling injuries all season long and it’s seriously effected his game. He has struggled mightily this year.
Freddie has only started one game since March 19th and over that time, Jack Campbell has done more than enough to win that starting job.
Andersen is probably not going to be starting a game this post-season barring any major injuries. It is unfortunate but it is very likely we have seen Andersen start his last game as a Leaf.
Forwards: Pierre Engvall, Riley Nash, Nick Robertson, Adam Brooks, Stefan Noesen
There is a lot of depth on this team and you can make a case for any of these players to be in the lineup.
Stefan Noesen is probably the least likely to suit up in any games this post-season. He’s a break glass emergency fill in for a worst case scenario.
There is a chance that Riley Nash is part of this game one lineup but it’s unlikely he takes someone’s spot after not playing a game since April 4th. If he does slot in, Galchenyuk is probably the odd man out with Kerfoot sliding up to the second line left wing spot and Nash taking that centre spot on the third line.
Pierre Engvall is also probably going to get some games in. He’s a versatile forward who can slot in anywhere in the bottom six and penalty kill.
Adam Brooks also has an impressive season in the games he played this season. He looked really good in that fourth line centre spot. Its very possible to see him suit up for a game here and there.
If it wasn’t for his injury in the second game of the season, it’s very possible that Nick Robertson is in this game one lineup. It is possible to see him come into the lineup if the offense is struggling. With the shot he brings, it can definitely help spark the offense if needed.
Defense: Zach Bogosian, Ben Hutton, Timothy Liljegren
It’s a weird thing to say, especially with how things have been in a recent seasons, but the Leafs are loaded on the blueline.
The Zach Bogosian signing was a weird one when it was first announced. This was a guy who looked like his career was on the decline and would be no more than a depth guy. He came in and was, to the surprise of many, a very good third pairing defenseman.
If it was not for the injury he sustained on April 20th against the Canucks, he is in the game one lineup. He should suit up for a good number of games. Especially if one of Travis Dermott or Rasmus Sandin are struggling a little bit or a more physical presence is needed on the back end.
Ben Hutton is a pretty good depth piece to add in case of injury. He is not too exciting of a player but he can come in and do a formidable job on the bottom pairing and penalty kill if needed.
Timothy Liljegren is the best defensive prospect in the Leafs’ system. He is expected to be a mainstay on the roster next season. In the two games he played this season, he looked very sharp and by all accounts, he is an NHLer. It is not expected he gets any games however unless there are injuries.
This is probably the best team the Toronto Maple Leafs have had in their 104 year history. Seriously.
The amount of star power is absurd and this roster is extremely deep with talent.
There are multiple different lineups that the Leafs can put on the ice and have a chance at winning. With that being said, this lineup makes the Leafs the best they can be. This lineup will help this team reach it’s full potential.