Will the Leafs Finally Win a Playoff Round?
Sizing up their chances to win first series since 2004
Hey weekday subscribers. Just a reminder that we tackle timely topics in our Pregame Skate weekend columns, which our for paid members only. Last weekend, Parker Milner shared his playoff predictions and thoughts on the NHL’s new vaccine regulations.
Canadiens, Leafs Face-Off for 1st Time Since 1979
Why They Will Win: Mats Sundin. Ed Belfour. Brian Leetch. These three players were dawning the blue and white the last time the Leafs won a playoff round. In other words, it’s been a while. For the current core, 2021 marks year five of sustained regular season success, with well known playoff disappointments that followed:
First round loss to Washington, 2017 (just happy to be here)
First round loss to Boston, 2018 (hurts a little)
First round loss to Boston, 2019 (hurts a lot)
Loss to Columbus, 2020 Bubble (did they even make the playoffs?)
This year seems like Toronto’s best shot.
This is the first time where they’ll be favored. Despite seasons of 105 and 100 points in 2018 and 2019 respectively, the Bruins were the favorites in each of those matchups. After winning the season series 7-2-0-1 against Les Habitants this season, the Leafs are expected to win.
On the ice, their style of play is vastly different from years past. They are 6th in goals against (27th last year) and 7th in goals for (3rd last year), and Jack Campbell has solidified the crease to a tune of a 17-2-2 record with a .923 save percentage. Tack on the veteran and defensive-minded additions of Nick Foligno, TJ Brodie, and Riley Nash — among others — and you’ve got the most complete Maple Leafs team since Auston Matthews was 7 years old.
Why They Won’t: Because they’re the Leafs. If there’s a team that exudes less confidence of playoff prowess, I’m not sure who that would be. We’ve seen strong regular seasons from this core before, and we know how the story has ended.
For a first-place team, many questions remain:
Can this core prove they can play playoff style hockey?
Are the veterans they’ve added able to keep up with the pace?
Will their power-play — currently 16th in the NHL and hitting at a lower clip than the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes — turn it around? Can Jack Campbell do something he’s never done before?
How will a potential Game 1 loss impact their mindset?
The Leafs do well to get in their own way, but they will have an opponent, and a quality one at that. You don’t need a long memory to remember Montreal’s success in the bubble a year ago, and Carey Price’s dominant .936 save percentage there against the favored Pittsburgh Penguins. If you’re coach Dominique Ducharme, your pre-series speech starts there, and likely ends with tape of their foes faltering against Columbus — who sported a playing style eerily similar to these Canadiens. And if you’re a fan of historical significance, the Leafs have lost eleven straight playoff games to Montreal. Their last win? Game 6 of the 1967 Stanley Cup Final.
The Prediction: There are always “ifs” in playoff hockey. Games will be close, but as long as 2021 Carey Price doesn’t channel 2014 Carey Price and Jack Campbell doesn’t allow any deflating goals, the Leafs should be on the fun side of the handshake line for the first time in a long time.
Leafs in 6.
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A Question for the Peanut Gallery
Will the Leafs get their first playoff series win since 2004?