2021 North Division Semifinals Game 1
Montreal Canadiens @ Toronto Maple Leafs
How to watch
Start time: 7:30 PM EDT / 4:30 PM PDT
In Canada: CBC, Sportsnet (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the U.S.: NHL Network
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Live
Hockey fans of the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs have been waiting a long time for the teams to meet in the playoffs. Even with the storied franchises being moved into the same division for the past two decades, there hadn’t been a meeting in the post-season since 1979.
Fans of the team from Toronto have been waiting even longer to see their team hoist the Stanley Cup, and are convinced they have the team to finally end a 53-year drought. Montreal’s goal is to nip that optimism in the bud, and stop a dry spell of their own that is approaching 30 years.
One of these franchises is going to get out of the first round and be 12 wins from the title. The first game will give us an idea of which team that could be.
Tale of the Tape
|54.5% (2nd)||Corsi-for pct.||51.0% (11th)|
|2.00 (12th)||Goals per game||1.00 (16th)|
|1.00 (3rd)||Goals against per game||2.00 (6th)|
|0% (14th)||PP%||0% (15th)|
|100% (4th)||PK%||100% (5th)|
The players on the current Canadiens roster haven’t been waiting nearly so long to get going, but it probably feels like it after a week off for the team, and even longer than that for most players. Carey Price will be playing his first NHL game in a calendar month, opting for two periods of action in the AHL to get back up to game speed. Gallagher joined him in Laval following six weeks of recovery from a broken thumb. Most of the star players were rested for the final regular season game, and therefore haven’t been in a match in 10 days. Minor injuries have healed, the mental slog of the compressed season is behind them, and now the players are eager to play the meaningful games.
The rest will be extended for Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Cole Caufield, and Alexander Romanov, and those have been controversial decisions from head coach Dominique Ducharme. When Marc Bergevin committed to his “reset” it meant he was going to have a team split between a win-now core and an up-and-coming young contingent of future stars. For Game 1 at least, the veterans are taking precedent, with deadline depth acquisition Eric Staal taking the place of the team’s youngest centreman.
What the experienced formation will be trying to do is lock down Auston Matthews and company, which proved impossible in the 10-game regular-season series. He had points in every one of the meetings, and goals in six consecutive games until Montreal finally held him at zero in the final game on May 8. The story of the series on the whole was similar, with Toronto taking seven wins.
Rather than dwell on the end results, the Canadiens would prefer to look at how close most of the games were. Seven of the them found the teams separated by a goal or less with the final minutes ticking away, while the largest margins of defeat came in the final couple of weeks of the season when the Canadiens were missing some of their top players. Everyone on the team will believe they’re not so far off the level of their much more favoured opponent.
The Canadiens know how well their top line can play when it’s healthy, discovered a new line of Paul Byron, Jake Evans, and Artturi Lehkonen that can take on secondary shutdown duties, and also have Nick Suzuki entering the post-season on the same kind of scoring run he started the year on. Getting solid play from the defence and offence from all four lines is what Bergevin built his team around, and the key to success for Montreal in the series.