The rivalry between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens stretches back to the inception of the NHL in 1917, but for the two oldest franchises, their first playoff meeting in 42 years has more immediate implications.
The Habs are the last Canadian franchise to win the Stanley Cup (1993), but in spite of some postseason success in recent years, the passionate Montreal fan base has grown frustrated with the club’s inconsistency.
The Leafs have not reached the Cup Final since their last championship in 1967 and have not won a postseason series since 2004, but the Blue and White appear to have the best chance for playoff success after winning the North Division with a core group that includes Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares.
Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe confirmed that Jack Campbell (17-3-2, 2.15 GAA, .921 sv%) will start in goal for Game 1, and Toronto will be completely healthy entering the series, with wingers Zach Hyman and Nick Foligno, center Riley Nash, defenseman Zach Bogosian, and goalie Frederik Andersen all practicing this week.
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Montreal head coach Dominique Ducharme will start the series with a more veteran lineup, playing veterans Eric Staal, Corey Perry, and Jon Merrill over center Jesperi Kotkaniemi, rookie winger Cole Caufield and defenseman Alexander Romanov for Game 1 and are expected to step it up physically against the speedy and more skilled Leafs, but Toronto appears more prepared after the late-season acquisitions of Foligno and Nash.
“Teams are extremely quick to start the game (and) get to the body. It’s playoff time, I know I keep saying that and it’s going to become pretty cliche, but that’s what it takes to win.” Leafs’ winger Wayne Simmonds said. “With the guys that we’ve brought in here to compliment the guys that we already have on our team, I think we have no shortage of physicality and we’re prepared to play that game.”