The rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs has been ingrained in me since I was little kid. The two teams failed to directly compete with each other in the standings for the better part of two decades, as the Leafs contended during dark times in Montreal before the Canadiens regained their footing as the Leafs failed. Even still, I never managed to divest myself of the tension between the two clubs, no matter how contrived.
Tonight, however, there’ll be no Hockey Night In Canada hype required. Both teams are primed to make the playoffs, but in an unbalanced Eastern Conference and with Toronto only four points back of Montreal’s division lead, each team could as easily find itself out of the playoff picture as it could end up the division champion.
That makes the significance of tonight’s game very, very real.
How to Watch
Puck drop: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: CBC (English), CITY (English), TVAS (French)
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Gamecenter Live, NHL Center Ice
Tale Of The Tape
|52.74||Score-adjusted Corsi %||51.37|
|1.19||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.09|
For Montreal, the stark necessity of scoring a goal or two is front and centre. The Habs managed five goals when these two teams last met, which, coincidentally, is as many as they’ve put up in their last five games combined going into tonight. There is hope, though: Claude Julien’s recent promotion of Artturi Lehkonen has the team’s top-nine in its optimal configuration. Now, it’s a matter of hoping that playing an average-at-best defensive opponent will let the Habs collect some dividends from their new alignment.
If they’re lucky, playing the Maple Leafs will also ignite the one trio that’s survived the transition to a new coach. Max Pacioretty, Alexander Radulov, and Phillip Danault savaged the Leafs from the first shift last time out, and the Habs need that mix of skill, strength, and dogged determination from their top line if they’re to get back on track.
At the other end of the ice, the story will be Montreal’s ability to contain the Leafs’ top forwards. The Habs failed in their mission to frustrate John Tavares on Thursday evening, and if Auston Matthews is as successful as his fellow first overall pick, Carey Price will be in for a tough night. If there’s any reprieve, it’s the potential absence of Mitch Marner due to injury. Marner was the best Leafs forward six weeks ago, deceiving the Habs’ defence with his east-west game and deft passing.
For a team still holding on to the division lead, this is as close to a must-win game as a February Saturday night can get. In a year that the Tricolore are supposed to be Stanley Cup contenders, and have led the Atlantic from the starting gun, their recent struggles have allowed the Senators, Leafs, Bruins, and even the Panthers, to creep back into striking distance.
The Habs have a few more cracks at the Sens and Panthers before the regular season is out, but barring a playoff matchup, tonight’s game is their last chance to control their own destiny against another close divisional competitor.
It’s been a struggle to pick up even two points in the standings of late, but playing one of their oldest rivals in a contest that finally means something, the Habs should make it their business to get all four.