I’ll be the first to admit that, on paper, the Toronto Maple Leafs have the strongest of the two teams, by far. Without doubt they have the most potent offence in the league. Matthews, Marner, and Tavares lead a powerful offensive corps followed by Nylander, Hyman, and the late season addition, Galchenyuk. There’s no denying what these players can pull off for Toronto. Should they go on an offensive tear there’s not much Montreal can do. Even if Price was to regain his form after returning from injury the Leafs’ offence can’t be stopped if allowed to roam the ice at will as they did far too often in this year’s series between the two teams.
The veteran experience of Joe Thorton, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Muzzin, Jason Spezza, and Nick Foligno will have a significant impact on Toronto’s chances should they get passed Montreal. However, in this series that experience and grit is offset by Montreal’s Corey Perry, Shea Weber, Tyler Toffoli, and Eric Staal.
I rate the Leafs and Habs defence as even. Both teams have strong enough defence, especially given the Leafs’ improvements this year.
The Leafs powerplay teams gets the advantage over the Canadiens, but it’s offset by the advantage the Habs’ penalty killers bring to the table, especially given their ability to score shorthanded.
For the series to tilt in Montreal’s favour, given the offensive advantage the Leafs hold, it’s going to come down to two main issues: Montreal’s goaltending and defensive coverage by its forwards.
Whether it’s Jake Allen or Carey Price playing, they’re going to have to elevate their game to the elite level required to shut down the Leafs’ offence. Both goalies are capable of pulling it off. They’ve done it in the past. Habs fans have to be hoping and praying for it to happen. Otherwise, yikes! The Leafs might win in four or five.
Montreal has several forwards, led by the likes of Phillip Danault and Nick Suzuki, that have the capability to shut down the Leafs’ offence. The question is whether or not they can bring that level of play for the duration of the series.
There’s a lot to be said when a strong team with lots of depth is overwhelmingly ranked the underdog in a series. The Habs have a strong leadership group that might just be able to push this team enough to beat the Leafs, especially given the underdog label.
Should things go as expected, the Leafs win the series in five or six games. I’m counting on them not going as expected. I’m counting on players like Suzuki, Toffoli, Anderson, Tatar, a healthy Gallagher, and young phenom Cole Caufield to light an offensive spark that will pierce through whatever shield the Leafs’ goaltending tandem will put up.
The Habs will rise to the occasion and win the series in six.