Hockey’s oldest rivalry will be rekindled during the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in 42 years when the Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of this year’s NHL postseason as heavy betting favourites on the NHL playoff series prices. The Maple Leafs return to playoff action as regular-season divisional champions for the first time in two decades after claiming the North Division crown and have been rewarded with a spot among the favourites on the Stanley Cup odds. However, Toronto has plenty of work to do to snap an eight-game losing streak against Montreal in playoff action since the last time the Maple Leafs raised the Cup, back in 1967.
The Canadiens will see postseason action for a second straight year after clinching fourth place in the North. Montreal enters the playoffs riding a five-game losing streak, and has been racked by injuries during a hectic regular-season stretch run, but should benefit from an eight-day break prior to the start of their first-round series with Toronto.
CanadianBettingSites has got you covered with all the odds, trends, and backstories as these two storied NHL rivals square off in a rare Stanley Cup playoff series, which gets underway at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Thursday, May 20.
Leafs Dominated Season Series
The Maple Leafs dominated in this year’s 10-game regular-season series with Montreal, posting wins in seven of 10 meetings, including four of five on home ice. In addition to putting the brakes on a four-game slide against Montreal, the Leafs effectively shut down the Canadiens this season, limiting their rivals to two or fewer goals on six occasions, and surrendering just 2.50 goals per game.
ICYMI: It’s been 42 years since Toronto has faced Montreal in the playoffs, when Canadiens legend & HHOFer Larry Robinson scored the OT winner that ended the Leafs’ run that season.
— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) May 13, 2021
However, with the Canadiens relying heavily on a defence-first game plan this season, they managed to frustrate Toronto’s vaunted attack at times, limiting the Maple Leafs to just 10 total goals over their three most recent matchup. The question is whether the already battered and bruised Habs can contain the Leaf’s offence over the course of a lengthy seven-game series.
Matthews Powering Leafs Attack
With this season’s Rocket Richard Trophy winner Auston Matthews leading the way with a league-high 41 goals, the Leafs were among the highest-scoring teams in the NHL this season, averaging a fifth-ranked 3.35 goals per game.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) May 7, 2021
Matthews produced regularly when facing Montreal this season, racking up seven goals and seven assists in their 10 meetings, highlighted by a four-point performance in the club’s 5-3 victory at Bell Centre on February 20.
Plenty to Prove for Galchenyuk
While the Canadiens will be aiming to shut down the NHL’s top goal scorer, they will have their hands full against a deep Toronto offence that features Mitch Marner, who finished fourth in the league in points, and an uber-talented supporting cast that includes captain John Tavares, William Nylander, Zach Hyman, and versatile veteran Nick Foligno. And while it remains to be seen how much ice time he will receive, there should be no shortage of motivation for Alex Galchenyuk.
Starting off strong. 💪
Alex Galchenyuk has the Leafs on the board just 16 seconds in! pic.twitter.com/0ldJEazts2
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 6, 2021
Drafted by the Canadiens with the third overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, Galchenyuk failed to live up to the promise in Montreal. However, the highly-skilled 27-year-old found a new lease on his hockey life in Toronto this season and will be eager to have the opportunity to prove to his former team that they were wrong to cut him loose by shipping him to Arizona in a trade three years ago.
|Stanley Cup Odds|
|Vegas Golden Knights||6.50||6.50||6.73|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||6.50||7.00||5.65|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||9.00||8.00||8.16|
|New York Islanders||21.00||17.00||18.00|
|St. Louis Blues||36.00||23.00||23.00|
Canadiens Ride Losing Streak into Playoffs
As for the Canadiens, the challenge will be to find a way to spark their moribund offence. Montreal scored just 2.20 goals per game during their season-closing losing streak and has scored more than three goals in a game just twice in its last 17 outings. Injuries to key personnel and a busy schedule have not helped.
Despite losing 31 games in a 56 game season, the Montreal Canadiens are on their way to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
— Psychosocial Distancing Jesse (@jessekellestine) May 11, 2021
Stricken by an outbreak of COVID-19 that forced the postponement of four contests in late March, the Habs were forced to play their final 25 games over just 43 days, with no more than a single day off in between contests during that stretch.
Injuries a Massive Concern
Injuries to superstar goaltender Carey Price, forward Brendan Gallagher and Philip Danault, and veteran rearguard Shea Weber did not help matters. The good news for Montreal is all four players are expected to be ready to return in time for Game 1 next Thursday. But the return of their biggest stars is unlikely to be enough to compete with Toronto, placing additional pressure on the Canadiens’ youngsters and depth players to step up.
Shea Weber, Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher and Carey Price are skating this morning in Brossard @CanadiensMTL
— Renaud Lavoie (@renlavoietva) May 12, 2021
That opens the door for Cole Caulfield to continue his impressive NHL debut. The Canadiens’ first-round pick in 2019, Caulfield has had an immediate impact since joining the club last month, recording four goals in 10 outings including a pair of game-winners. The same praise cannot be heaped on Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The 20-year-old’s highly-anticipated breakthrough did not materialize this season and particularly struggled down the stretch, failing to score in his final 24 game appearances.
Toronto Goaltending Woes Give Habs Hope
Despite those concerns, the Canadiens have maintained momentum at the sportsbooks, gaining ground on the Stanley Cup odds at sportsbooks like Bodog and Betway in the hours following the end of their schedule. Montreal could also be benefiting from the concerns that the Maple Leafs have faced in goal.
Back-to-back in Games 3 and 4 means at least one start, in all likelihood, for Frederik Andersen. https://t.co/SDdvXQ1xUm
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) May 13, 2021
Sidelined by injury since mid-March, Andersen looked shaky in his first game back, a 4-3 loss in Ottawa on May 12. And while Jack Campbell has made a strong case to replace Andersen as the team’s starter in the meantime, he has succeeded despite enduring injury trouble of his own.
While the Leafs’ struggles in the crease may provide a glimmer of hope, it is tough to see the Canadiens coming close to knocking off their oldest rivals. With an enormous amount to prove following five straight playoff exits, the Maple Leafs are reliable, albeit low-value bet (1.33) to knock off Montreal. Sports bettors seeking added value should take the Maple Leafs to win this series in five games (4.26), with a $20 wager at Sports Interaction paying out $85.18.