If the Stanley Cup playoffs started today, the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs would be gearing up for their first postseason meeting since 1979. What a sight that would be. We have to assume that both organizations, with their eyes glued to the standings, are achingly aware that on Saturday night, we’ll get a taste of what that matchup could look like.
The Leafs visit the Bell Centre on Saturday for their first game against the Canadiens since a 3-2 overtime victory at the Air Canada Centre to kick off the season.
Here’s a look at how these teams matchup:
Toronto Maple Leafs
The biggest problem with the Leafs is that they haven’t been able to gain any ground on the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning who are tops in the Atlantic Division with a remarkable 81 points, 14 points ahead of the second place Leafs.
With 67 points, the Leafs, even with Mitch Marner, Austen Matthews and John Tavares are only six points ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets who are in the 2nd Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference and only two points ahead of the Boston Bruins who are in the first Wild Card position.
With a 5-4-1 record in their last ten games, now would be a good time to start a winning streak (they’ve won two in a row) to start to pad the standings a little. The good news is that the Leafs have done very well on the road this season with a 16-6-2 record and 17 of their remaining 30 games are on the road.
No matter how strong their play on the road, Saturday’s contest against the Habs kicks off a six-game road trip across the country. Long road trips are never easy, even if the games are not, necessarily, against quality competition, like the New York Rangers, Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes, all teams the Leafs should beat.
The Leafs return home on Thursday, February 21 for a date with the reigning Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.
It’s hard not to appreciate what the Canadiens have accomplished under head coach Claude Julien this season. Predicted to be a candidate in the Jack Hughes sweepstakes in June and well out of the playoffs, the Habs are one point back of the Leafs in the Atlantic Division race, in third place with 66 points.
With goaltender Carey Price playing as he should and Brendan Gallagher doing yeoman’s work to reach 30 goals in consecutive seasons – at 21 goals with 28 games to go it’s well within reach – the Habs have managed a 7-2-1 record in their last ten games and continue to find ways to win.
After a busy stretch of five games in eight days, for better or worse, the Canadiens have a four-day break after Saturday night’s contest against the Leafs. They visit the Nashville Predators on Valentin’s Day before heading to Florida for back-to-back contests against the Lightning and the Florida Panthers over the weekend.
Leafs vs. Habs
There’s no real way to gauge how this matchup with go, since the last time the teams met, the 2018-19 season was just starting, William Nylander was holding out for a contract and Shea Weber was recovering from knee surgery. Both are back and finding their game at the perfect time.
Every Leafs vs. Habs game is worth watching because both teams raise their games to new heights when they play each other. Their rivalry, one of the best and the oldest in the sport, dates back to 1917. It’s been forty years since the teams faced off in a playoff setting. We can only dream that the standings haven’t changed by the time April rolls around.
This is the second of four meetings between the clubs who will meet again on Feb. 23 and whose final meeting ends the 2018-19 regular season in Montreal on Apr. 6. Fingers crossed that it’s only the beginning of this season’s epic showdown.