A Leafs-Habs Series Needs To Happen
Source: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images
With the NHL forced to realign the divisions for this shortened 56-game season due to the ongoing issues with the Canada-USA border, one of the changes was to have an All-Canadian division with just all of the seven teams in Canada, called the “Scotiabank North” Division. The other three groups in the United States have 8 teams each, and all play only the teams in their division to avoid any unnecessary travel in these times.
In the United States they play all of the other seven teams eight times each to make it 56, but in Canada, there is one less team to play against therefore you play the other six teams nine times each plus a tenth time against two of them in order to complete a total of 56. Those last two games are chosen by the closest natural geographical rivalries, one of them being the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Montreal Canadiens.
This is the most storied and historic rivalry in all of hockey and currently are the best two teams in this All-Canadian “North” division.
For one reason or another, these two teams – who have met in the playoffs 15 times in their history, five times in the Stanley Cup Finals – have not faced each other in the postseason since 1979. That is over 40 years ago and an entire generation has never seen it happen. It has come close a handful of times, most memorably for fans that remember 1993 when the Canadiens got to the finals in the East, while the Leafs lost (should have won that series but that’s a whole other story) by 1 goal in the 7th game of the Western Conference Finals.
That was the last time it ever got that close to meeting each other in the Stanley Cup Finals as Toronto would then move to the Eastern Conference in 1998, and have been in the same division as Montreal ever since. They were one point away in the final regular season standings from a 1st round matchup in 2002, 2004 and 2013 as well as almost meeting in the 2002 conference finals, when this time the Leafs got there but the Canadiens blew a 2-1 series lead dropping 3 straight and lost in 6 games in the second round.
Unless you remember 1979 (which I know most of you don’t) I don’t think we can truly appreciate or understand what is the longest standing rivalry in hockey to its fullest. Look at the Leafs wars against the Boston Bruins over the last several years; how about “The Battle of Ontario” in the early 2000’s with the Leafs and Ottawa Senators? Or on and off over the years since the 1980’s between the Canadiens and the Boston Bruins?
All of these rivalries are true and real but got amplified to another level by playing a playoff series, most of them usually going the full seven games. This is what this Leafs-Canadiens rivalry needs; a playoff series that would almost definitely go the distance as well and would take the hatred between the two fan bases to a whole other level. This is also desperately what the NHL needs; long-standing rivalries like this one to grab the headlines which would do wonders for TV ratings.
It is a crime that these two teams have not met in the playoffs for over four decades, there is in my opinion too many teams in the league and too many mediocre players in it, leading to watered-down talent and way too much parity. The least the NHL can do is make sure matchups like this can happen as much and often as possible in the postseason. For example we need more of Edmonton-Calgary, Pittsburgh-Philadelphia, Islanders-Rangers, etc.
Now it is really nobody’s fault that this has not happened since 1979. But if we as hockey fans really want to see the most storied rivalry be the biggest rivalry in hockey again like it was for decades in the past, let’s cross our fingers that in a season like this one to be epic for fan bases all over Canada no matter who plays who.
However, we know what matchups would give it that extra spark and no question about it that a series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens would be at the very top. If it doesn’t happen in the 1st round then it can still happen in the division final should both teams win their respective series, and odds are so far on paper and on the ice that these are the best two teams in the division.
It is guaranteed that a Canadian team will get to the final four this year and if ends up being these two teams to decide who represents this Canadian division in 2021 – look out, it would be an explosion that a generation of hockey fans have never seen before. Many of us have stories about trash-talking with fans of the other team at various times in their lives whether it be in high school, out at the bars and of course at the arena.
Imagine what a playoff series between these two storied franchises would be like now in the online world we live in today with social media? This really needs to happen, and if there was ever a year we need it the most under the circumstances we currently live in it would be right now. Enjoy the rest of these games between these 2 teams – and hopefully another four to seven more.