2021 North Division Final Game 1
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.: NBCSN
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Live
Game 7 of the opening-round series was touted as a chance for the Toronto Maple Leafs to overcome their demons, knock off their fiercest rival, and make it to the second round for the first time in almost two decades. After all, they had had multi-goal comebacks in the previous two games, with Montreal avoiding elimination with two overtime goals. Instead, Montreal put together its best game of the series, locking down all of the lanes the Maple Leafs were looking to exploit and keeping one of the NHL’s most envied offences off the board. The only puck that got past Carey Price came late in the game with Montreal already up three.
It was an emotional victory for Montreal, coming in as the underdog, seemingly on pace to get beaten in a short series as many predicted, then coming back to win three consecutive games to shock the pundits and knock off one of the teams that had given them the most trouble in the regular season out of the playoffs.
The Canadiens won’t get long to celebrate the victory, as they begin the second round versus the Winnipeg Jets tonight. It will be their eighth game in 14 days following a much-needed week off before the post-season began.
Tale of the Tape
|47.8% (10th)||Corsi-for pct.||44.7% (12th)|
|2.00 (12th)||Goals per game||3.50 (3rd)|
|2.57 (6th)||Goals against per game||2.00 (3rd)|
|30.0% (4th)||PP%||15.8% (12th)|
|87.0% (1st)||PK%||81.8% (6th)|
The Jets have been waiting for their next opponent since pulling off a stunning series win of their own. Mirroring the Habs-Leafs situation, the Jets had had little success versus the high-powered Edmonton Oilers in the regular season, but were able to outscore them in four straight games — three of them going to overtime — to pull off the sweep.
We saw Carey Price stand on his head to turn aside the Leafs’ top players, and Connor Hellebuyck did the same in his series. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Jesse Puljujarvi, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Kailer Yamamoto had a combined 39 high-danger scoring chances at five-on-five through the four games, and a total of four goals to show for it. Hellebuyck comes into this series with a league-best .950 save percentage, and 1.50 goals saved above expected per 60 minutes of full-strength time.
With so many chances given up, the quality of the Jets’ defence has to be a question. Before the season began, that was the biggest concern for Winnipeg’s chances of making the playoffs, and while they ended up making it somewhat comfortably in the end, it proved to be a weakness as they were the sixth-worst team in scoring chances against, fifth-worst when just looking at the most dangerous of those chances. Montreal, meanwhile, was eighth and 11th of the 31 teams, respectively, in those two defensive categories in their 56-game schedule.
With a better defence on paper, the issue for Montreal’s blue line is the health of their key players. Shea Weber has been affected by something all season long, Jeff Petry seems to have an arm injury that is preventing him from playing the puck with his usual effectiveness, and on several occasions in Game 7 former Jet Ben Chairot limped back to the bench. Fatigue is going to be an issue for a Canadiens team facing the possibility of 14 games in 25 days if this series goes the distance, and these nagging injuries aren’t going to help matters.
Erik Gustafsson played 10 minutes in Game 7, and responded with a key pass on the power play to set up the eventual series-clincher. Dominique Ducharme was hesitant to use him in Game 6, but he played an important role in the most important game the Canadiens have played so far. If there was ever a time to get Alexander Romanov his first playoff experience ... well that was Game 1 of the previous series, but the first game of the second round is a similar opportunity to get the team’s most mobile blue-liner into the formation and allow him to gain the same experience his forward teammates benefitted from versus the Maple Leafs. He could take some of the pressure off the ailing veterans if the coach is willing to allow him to play through a few mistakes.
The interim head coach got rewarded with a series win by (eventually) trusting the future of the team to show off its talents. Getting quality minutes from a fresh member of the blue line could be a difference-maker if it helps one of his workhorses stay healthy enough to keep going.