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HOCKEYPATROL  /  NHL  /  NEWS

Predicting the first round of the playoffs: Leafs vs Habs in the North Division

Published May 12, 2021 at 12:30
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With everyone's favorite time of the year fast approaching, I felt that now would be as good a time as any to take a look at the first round playoff matchups and provide my predictions on how it will all play out.

Each day, I will be going through each division and giving a bit of a breakdown of how I see things playing out, starting today with the North Division with the Leafs and the Canadiens.

A decisive 5-0 Winnipeg Jets victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday has officially locked up the North Division playoff matchups, with the 3rd place Jets flying into Edmonton to take on the 2nd place Oilers, setting up a series for the ages between the 1st place Toronto Maple Leafs and the 4th place Montreal Canadiens.

1st place Toronto vs. 4th place Montreal:


Toronto

The Toronto Maple Leafs have had far more ups than downs in 2020-21, despite having experienced a disappointing qualifying round loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2019-20, which forced the Leafs to re-tool their club in the offseason.

With the additions of T.J. Brodie, Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds and Zach Bogosian, the Leafs addressed just about every need that they had, creating a very well-balanced and diverse lineup. The end result, as we now know, was a 35-13-6 record thus far in the regular season, and a 7-2-1 record against the Habs in the season series.

X-Factors:

Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Jack Campbell

Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have been one of the NHL's best duos this season, if not THE best. The chemistry that the two young superstars have developed this season is significant, with Marner currently sitting in 4th place in points league-wide with 67 points, behind only Connor McDavid (102), Leon Draisaitl (81) and Brad Marchand (69).

Meanwhile, Auston Matthews has continued lighting the league on fire with an astonishing 40 goals in just 50 games, scoring at will, despite being hindered by a nagging wrist injury for much of the season. The 23-year-old has all but locked up the Rocket Richard Trophy, sitting 7 goals up on 2nd place Connor McDavid with each player having two games remaining.

As far as X-factors go, Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell ranks right up there with the league's biggest surprises in 2020-21, backstopping the Buds to an incredible 17-2-2 record across 21 starts. His .923 SV% and 2.11 GAA this season exceed his career average on both accounts and his 11-straight wins to start a season established both franchise and NHL records. If you're looking for a guy who will come in and give you the best chance to win, Jack Campbell seems to be it - so long as the Leafs don't elect to hand the net back to Frederik Andersen, who is on the cusp of returning from injury after missing the last 23 games.

Montreal

The Montreal Canadiens came out of the gates hot, leading many to believe that they would be one of the top teams in the North Division this season, riding high on a postseason performance in 2019-20 that left everyone shocked, as the team made it to the 2nd round after missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons in the two years prior.

The Canadiens carried forward much of the same group, also adding forwards Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli and a pair of quality defensemen in Joel Edmundson and 2018 draftee Alexander Romanov to the lineup, and acquiring backup goaltender Jake Allen from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for a pair of draft picks.

Despite the wheels coming off a little bit down the stretch, the Habs are by no means an easy out for the Leafs. Their heavy-hitting style is built for the postseason and I expect this series to be very competitive.

X-Factors:

Tyler Toffoli, Cole Caufield, Carey Price

Tyler Toffoli was sort of an under-the-radar signing by the Habs. Originally projected to be a bottom-six player who could play up in the lineup if needed, Toffoli absolutely exploded this season with 28 goals in 52 games, putting him on a 44-goal pace over an 82-game season.

Cole Caufield, like Toffoli, enjoys scoring huge goals, as shown by the fact that his first two NHL goals came in overtime. Goals like that are as clutch as they come, and Caufield has scored big time goals at every level he has ever played at. The 15th overall pick in 2019 has elite shooting potential, which makes him an X-factor in and of himself.

With Price and Allen both playing at the top of their game, the Habs have the ability to match up very well against the Leafs in goal. Price has been out since mid-April and has played well below his career average in 2020-21, but seasoned savvy is a valuable commodity, and Price has appeared in several crucial situations during his career. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that Price's ability to come in and steal a game can never be underestimated. Price has the ability to settle a series if he has a good run.

Another player who stands out as a potential issue for the Leafs is Brendan Gallagher.

Prediction:

All things considered and taking into account the momentum and motivation that each team is bringing with them into this series, I'm going with the Leafs in 6, but I fully expect the Habs to push the Leafs and keep things closer than most anticipate.
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May 12   |   615 answers
Predicting the first round of the playoffs: Leafs vs Habs in the North Division

Who will win the series?

Leafs21535 %
Habs40065 %
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