Toronto Maple Leafs (#1) VS Montreal Canadiens (#4)
For the first time since 1979, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens will meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Back in that 1979 matchup, things didn’t go so well for the Maple Leafs, as the Habs won four straight games to sweep the series.
On paper, the Maple Leafs look to be the clear favourite in this series, and why wouldn’t they be. They finished 18 points ahead in the standings and have elite offensive talent that the Habs simply can’t match. The Leafs scored 186 goals this season, led by Auston Matthews with a league-leading 41. Montreal, on the other hand, scored 158.
The difference for the Maple Leafs this season was that they kept the puck out of their net, only allowing 148 on the season while Montreal allowed 165. For the Habs to succeed in this series, they will have to try to make these games low scoring. If they let the Leafs superstar’s play their game, this series might be over pretty quickly.
Carey Price missed the last little bit of the regular season due to injury but looks set to make his return at some point in the first round. They will need 2020 NHL Bubble Carey Price, not 2021 regular season Cary Price to pull out a series win here.
Overall, there are not many areas that Montreal was superior in this season over the Maple Leafs. Their strategy will likely include trying to be extremely physical to get the Maple Leafs off their game; however, Toronto has shown much better resilience against that strategy this season.
It’s tough to argue against Toronto winning their first playoff series since 2004. There’s a new team commitment to defence that hasn’t been there in the past, and that will help lead the Maple Leafs past the Canadiens in the first round.
Prediction: Toronto in five
Edmonton Oilers (#2) VS Winnipeg Jets (#3)
These two teams had completely different finishes to their season. The Oilers dominated through the final few weeks of the season, while the Jets struggled down the stretch.
The Oilers run their offence through two of the best players in the game, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Behind them is starts to get a little thin, but that’s not as big of a problem when McDavid can get 105 points in 56 games. That’s an unbelievable pace, and we haven’t seen the likes of that in a long time.
The Jets defence isn’t as strong as it has been in the past, and they will have their hands full in trying to stop the best hockey player in the world. If they have any success in that, it will likely be because of Connor Hellebuyck.
The Jets goaltender is likely the most crucial player in this series. The Oilers know what they will get from McDavid and Draisaitl, but Hellebuyck is a little less clear. If he plays as he did in 2019-20 when he won the Vezina, the Jets have a fighting chance in this series. If he doesn’t, the Oilers shouldn’t struggle to score goals. He posted a .916 save percentage this season, which is still very good, but getting back to a .922 could make a huge difference.
Most people are already pencilling in a Toronto versus Edmonton matchup in the second round to crown a winner of the North Division. Those two teams won’t have a walk in the park during the first round; however, it would take a significant upset to prevent it from happening.
Prediction: Edmonton in six