Toronto Maple Leafs vs Montreal Canadiens NHL Playoff Series Predictions
For these two storied franchises, playoff success has been rather few and far between since Montreal was last able to hoist the Stanley Cup back in 1993. That remains the last time a Canadian team won the Cup. And as such, this championship drought has made the Canadian franchises the butt of any jokes involving the playoffs. For as big a rivalry as the Leafs/Habs has been over the last couple of decades, the fact remains that this is the first playoff meeting between these two clubs since 1979. That’s right, 1979. That’s doesn’t mean there hasn’t a rivalry, it has just been a bit fabricated in terms of legitimate hate towards one another. But boy am I glad to finally see this series come to life.
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What does Vegas think? Well, they’ve pegged the Leafs as -340 series favorites and -210 to win Game 1. If you think the Buds can do the unthinkable and end the Stanley Cup drought, you can grab them at +600 to do so which is the second choice on the betting board. If you like the Canadiens’ chances of pulling off four upsets on way to glory, they are priced at +3500.
The goal for these preview pieces is to help inform you/remind you which team has the edge on both ends of the rink. If you still aren’t sure, I recommend signing up and joining Doc’s team as he released NHL plays daily.
Goaltending & Defence
The Montreal Canadiens had a rough go of it this year. Sure, they finished fourth in the North Division and made the playoffs, but they were about as inconsistent a team as you could find, and they lost the season series to the lowly Ottawa Senators and were blown out 7-2 by the Leafs in their regular-season series. Defensively, the Habs have issues. They have a defense corps that has big names but is very overrated. They gave up almost three goals per game (18th), and they killed off penalties at a clip of 78.5 percent, which was good enough for 23rd overall. The goaltending has also been an issue. Long gone is the old-reliable Carey Price, who turned in a .936 save percentage and two shutouts last year in the playoff bubble. Instead, Price has been not only poor in net but injured a bunch. The Habs figure to have Price back in net for Game 1. However, even so, he’s likely less than 100 percent both in health and in confidence. Not good for their chances at pulling off the upset.
As for the Leafs, we know who they’ve been the last handful of seasons, and that’s a team that’s not very good in their own zone and that makes mistakes that lead to goals against. However, this year, the Leafs seemed to have figured it out. They rank T7 in goals allowed per game at 2.64 and fifth overall in shots on goal allowed at just 27.8. They also take the fifth-fewest penalty minutes per game, and that definitely helps the cause. Besides Jack Campbell and his 17-3-2 record with a 2.15 GAA and a .921 save percentage, the Leafs’ depth on defense, attention to detail, and puck possession game, are all contributing factors to the team’s success in their own zone. I don’t believe the Leafs will forget how to play defense in this series, thus Montreal is going to have a hard time scoring.
Offense & Special Teams
To say the Blue Jackets are offensively challenged would be an understatement. The team ranks 17th in goals per game at 2.82, 7th in shots on goal at 31.2 and 21st in shooting percentage at just nine percent. Their top player, Tyler Toffoli, has just 44 points (28g/16a). To put that into perspective a little bit, Toronto’s top scorer, Auston Matthews, has 41 goals. If the Canadiens can’t slow the games down and frustrate the Leafs, they will get run out of the building by the younger, quicker, and more skilled Maple Leafs. I would let you know about the Canadiens special teams, but they are far from special. As you can imagine, a lack of goals means very little power-play success (ranked 17th), and the PK needs a ton of work too.
As for the Leafs, we know all about their individual skill and talent, but it’ll be interesting to see how they react if the going gets tough. The Leafs have scorers and game-changers on every line, led by Auston Matthews (41G, 25A). Mitch Marner (20/47 for 67 points), John Tavares (19/31 for 60 points), and William Nylander (17/25 for 59 points). Big things are expected from that quartet. As a team, the Leafs rank sixth in goals per game (3.32), sixth in shots on goal (31.3), 16th on the power play (20 percent), and T6 in shooting percentage (10.6).
Leafs Nation has waited a very long time for their team to win a playoff series. I say they do it this year, and the sweet taste of success is that much better because it comes against a hated rival such as the Canadiens. The Leafs are far too fast and skilled for the Habs to keep up with, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see this series ended in five games.
Pick: Leafs in five.
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