It’s a Stanley Cup playoff collection that’s 42 years within the making, and the wait is lastly over.
For the primary time since 1979, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens will meet within the NHL’s post-season Thursday evening with Sport 1 of their North Division semifinal collection at Scotiabank Enviornment.
In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic will forestall any followers from watching video games contained in the downtown Toronto rink, or exterior at Maple Leaf Sq. for that matter, though it was introduced Tuesday that 2,800 followers might be allowed inside Montreal’s Bell Centre for a possible Sport 6 on Could 29.
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The overwhelming majority of hockey pundits are predicting a collection victory for Toronto, and a few say will probably be in as few as 4 or 5 video games, so it’s a no-brainer to say that the first-place Leafs are below much more strain than the Habs to advance to Spherical 2.
They don’t seem to be solely anticipated to win, Toronto is meant to take action handily. However I doubt will probably be that simple.
Sure, the Maple Leafs went wire-to-wire and completed comfortably atop the division, which provides the crew home-ice benefit till no less than the ultimate 4 groups are left standing.
However as we now have seen in current reminiscence — too many instances, actually — the Leafs have didn’t recover from the hump when it has mattered most.
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Followers nonetheless cringe on the nightmare of Toronto’s Sport 7 collapse towards the Boston Bruins in 2013 when Patrice Bergeron scored in extra time to cap a miraculous comeback from a 4-1 deficit halfway via the third interval.
The Leafs have misplaced three different first-round playoff collection since — together with two extra towards Boston — and haven’t superior previous the opening spherical since 2004, which looks like a lifetime in the past.
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Regardless of their regular-season success, there are nonetheless a number of questions that Toronto should reply heading into their Spherical 1 matchup versus Montreal.
Is that this the yr they lastly win a collection? Will the expertise of veterans Joe Thornton, Nick Foligno, Zach Bogosian, T.J. Brodie, Wayne Simmonds and Riley Nash translate into playoff success? Can new beginning goalie Jack Campbell proceed his spectacular run? Will the facility play catch hearth once more or proceed to fireside blanks?
Montreal began the season sturdy however shortly pale, made a mid-season teaching change, misplaced a number of gamers to accidents alongside the best way, added some veteran grit on the commerce deadline and held on for a fourth-place end within the North.
Nonetheless, with star goalie Carey Worth, captain Shea Weber and pesky ahead Brendan Gallagher returning to the lineup, the playoffs are positive to present the Habs a brand new lease on life — simply because it did final summer season after they eradicated the closely favoured Pittsburgh Penguins within the NHL’s summer season bubble.
Toronto ought to win this collection, from the personnel they’ve on paper and from what we’ve seen on the ice this season, which features a 7-2-1 report towards their arch-rivals.
Offence/Defence: The Leafs scored the sixth-most objectives within the league this season (3.35 GF/G) and allowed the seventh-fewest objectives (2.62 GA/G), whereas Montreal ranked seventeenth and 18th, respectively (2.82 GF/G, 2.95 GA/G). Benefit: Toronto
Goaltending: When enjoying at his greatest, Montreal’s Carey Worth remains to be among the finest goalies on the planet. Nonetheless, he has had a subpar season and is simply now getting back from a concussion, leaving backup Jake Allen to shoulder a lot of the load down the stretch. If Worth just isn’t himself, that’s going to be a significant setback for the Habs. Jack Campbell has loved a profession season as Toronto’s new No. 1 man between the pipes and will he falter at any level, former starter Frederik Andersen is ready within the wings after recovering from a lower-body harm. Benefit: Montreal
Defencemen: The Maple Leafs’ defence is far improved this season due to the addition of veterans T.J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian, whereas teenager Rasmus Sandin hasn’t appeared misplaced in his restricted time with the crew. Montreal’s Jeff Petry is without doubt one of the most underrated d-men within the NHL, hitting double digits in objectives within the final 4 seasons. A wholesome Shea Weber and big-bodied blue-liners Joel Edmundson and Ben Chiarot make for a formidable sextet. Benefit: Even
Forwards: It’s no secret that the Leafs have a humiliation of riches up entrance. Auston Matthews scored a league-best 41 objectives in 2021, whereas linemate Mitch Marner had a team-high 47 assists and 67 factors. They completed fourth and fifth in factors this season and are accompanied by different harmful offensive weapons reminiscent of John Tavares and William Nylander. Tyler Toffoli paced the Habs assault with 28 objectives — his highest complete since 2015-16 — and Montreal will even want manufacturing from Brendan Gallagher, Nick Suzuki, Josh Anderson and Tomas Tatar in the event that they wish to attain Spherical 2. Benefit: Toronto
Head coach: Sheldon Keefe has compiled a .602 successful proportion over two shortened seasons behind the Leafs bench and guided the membership to a first-place end within the North — the crew’s first division crown in 21 years. He has a agency grasp on how his crew ticks and if he can clear up the Leafs’ ailing energy play the sky is the restrict. Montreal’s Dominique Ducharme changed Claude Julien early this season and went 15-16-5 in his first NHL gig. Whichever coach makes the suitable changes at key factors on this collection will get the higher of the opposite. Benefit: Toronto
There is no such thing as a doubt in my thoughts that Montreal will play a bodily sport towards Toronto, leaning particularly arduous on NHL goal-scoring chief Auston Matthews and his slick setup man Mitch Marner to remove house and time.
The Leafs are effectively outfitted to reciprocate with the likes of Foligno, Simmonds and Zach Hyman, with the objective of enabling their expert gamers to get to these high-danger scoring likelihood areas.
On the finish of the day, and this collection, if Toronto’s star gamers dwell as much as their very own expectations and don’t succumb to the playoff strain as soon as once more, the Leafs might be on their approach to the second spherical.
If Montreal pulls off the upset, nonetheless, the query of whether or not this present Leafs group is able to an extended playoff run could have its reply.
Prediction: Toronto over Montreal in six video games.
Rick Zamperin is the assistant program, information and senior sports activities director at World Information Radio 900 CHML.
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