Hockey World Needs Canadiens-Leafs Series
Source: Allen McInnis/Montreal Gazette
On Saturday hockey's oldest rivalry duked it out in an entertaining affair. The Leafs and Habs have been neck and neck in the standings for weeks and It didn't disappoint. One has both to stop and think; How historic would a playoff series be between these two rivals? Listening to the chants for each side cheering on their beloved teams. The crowd was energetic and players on both teams knew they have to step up their game for this riveting matchup, it already had that playoff atomshpere.
Montreal scoring early in the game and the Leafs tied it up quickly at 1, both teams had the lead in the game but also gave it up. Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen made some big saves when the game was locked at 2. Price on the other side was keeping his team in the game after Toronto tied the game at 3, thanks to a quick wrister by William Nylander halfway into the third period. Both coaches pairing up lines against each other looking for the better match-up. It was like watching a game of chess and the Leafs were the victor again thanks to John Tavares.
Both meetings this season have ended in overtime and both times a Leafs player has scored the OT winner. The first one belonged to Auston Matthews, who's no stranger to scoring overtime winners against the Habs. He scored one last season to end a 14-game losing streak against their heated rivals from Quebec. Despite Toronto having the advantage on paper, Montreal has played the Leafs tough and at times have outplayed them thanks to their speed across the ice and aggressive defense. Their neutral zone offense has puzzled the Leafs defence, producing odd-man rushes leading to a bunch of scoring chances. Despite supposedly rebuilding, Montreal's record indicates otherwise. Nobody expected them to be in the playoff hunt but here they are hanging with the Leafs in the standings. With two more meetings remaining this season expect some more fun hockey to be watched.
1979 was the last time these two teams faced off in the playoffs. Montreal swept the Leafs for the second consecutive year and would go on to win their 22 Stanley Cup at the time. The Leafs and Habs were split up in 1981 and Toronto were now playing in the Western Conference. While the Leafs and Habs were separated, there was a chance they could face each other in the Stanley Cup finals, but it never happened. The closest was 93' when both teams were playing in the conference finals. Toronto was ousted by Gretzky and the Kings in 7 games but not without controversy brewing its ugly head, while Montreal defeated the New York Islanders easily in 5 games. Montreal would go on to beat the Kings in 5 adding their 24th and final Stanley Cup to date.
My dad tells me this story once in while. How the Leafs should have faced Montreal in the 93' Stanley Cup finals. He would tell me how the Leafs had Montreal's number that year, which they did beat the Habs in both meetings that season. No doubt he felt like Toronto would have been Stanley Cup champions if they played against Montreal that year. He's not a Leafs fan himself but he got upset about the whole Wayne Gretzky high sticking non-call. Which ultimately cost the Leafs a trip to the finals against Montreal.
The Leafs came back into the same conference with their arch-rivals after Nashville came into the league in 1998. Toronto has faced Ottawa four times in the playoffs since coming over and Boston twice. Though Toronto and Montreal still haven't gotten their playoff match-up since remerging back into the East 2002 was the closest its come for that reality to live out. If only Montreal had held their end of the bargain and beat the surprising Carolina Hurricanes. The Leafs struggled the rest of the 2000s and early in this decade missing the playoffs for eight straight seasons, not including the 04-05 lockout. The playoff matchup between the Leafs and Montreal could not materialize while wasting the final years of Mats Sundin's career in Toronto.
Since the NHL changed its playoff format in 2013, a Leafs-Habs series seems more of a possibility. If both teams can continue to play above average hockey for the rest of the season there's a good chance they'll meet in the post-season. We've seen two recent exciting, but heartbreaking, series (if you're a Leafs fan) between Toronto and Boston. If there's a third playoff meeting in 6 seasons, no question it's going to be as entertaining as the previous two.
Yet the hockey world is craving a Leafs-Habs series. The Bruins and Habs have faced off more than any other playoff matchup in NHL history. With Montreal having the upper hand by a mile. Toronto and Montreal would be a fresh matchup that would bring an older and newer generation of fans together. Sure Ottawa and Boston have become more intense rivalries with Toronto since reverting back to the East, but Toronto and Montreal is a rivalry many hockey fans want to see. It's an original six matchup with two of the most passionate fan bases in the league, with so much history involved, even the players know how important this rivalry is. The Stanley Cups each team lays claim to, all of the crazy moments and memories they share, and the many HOFers between them, if there was a perfect time for a Leafs vs Canadiens meeting in the playoffs this season would be it. Let's just pray to the hockey gods and hopefully, they'll listen.