Secrets disappear once you’ve played a team 10 times. So Anderson knows as well as anyone that the Montreal Canadiens’ path to a first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs is in the corners and around the enclosure. They have to do their best to dump the skill of the sport.
“The challenge for them is that we’re physical, and we’re going to bring that presence when the puck drops. We’re going to continue that throughout the series, ”Anderson said in that (too) long time leading up to Thursday’s puck drop. “If it’s bad, being physical against these top players, we’re going to do it for 60 minutes.
“It’s going to be a war over there.”
The Canadiens, losers in seven of ten regular-season games against the Toronto Maple Leafs, are the unanimous losers in a 42-year playoff series.
Of the 16 teams in the playoffs, the Habs have had the worst season.
Their point percentage (0.527) was lower than that of two teams (Dallas Stars and New York Rangers) that failed to do the dance. They have won fewer games (24) than three non-playoff teams (Rangers, Calgary Flames and Philadelphia Flyers). Neither Montreal’s offense (2.82 goals per game) nor its defense (2.95 goals against per game) have ranked in the top half of the NHL.
But one thing Montreal is good at is control, legally and illegally.
The Canadians dominated the league with 27.9 hits every 60 minutes. They threw a whopping 10 more hits per game than the Maple Leafs (17.7 hits for 60), which ranked 27th in that category and lowest in the North. And they’ll be counting on those extra hits that add up and wear Toronto out over time.
The Montrealers with 8:18 penalty minutes per game also lead all Canadian teams in the playoffs, while the Leafs’ 6:57 PIM per game were the fewest in Canada.
Much like Toronto’s most recent postseason disappointment, against the fun Columbus Blue Jackets in 2020, the game promises to be a battle of identities.
The catch this time is that the Maple Leafs aren’t afraid to get their war paint dirty.
“We’re much better equipped to handle the way the game wants to be played,” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. “We also have the ability to initiate things ourselves.
“In terms of confidence, we’ve played against Montreal 10 times here in the regular season and, statistically at least, they’re at the top of the league in physics. So, we have dealt with this. We are used to it.
Whether it’s maturing stars like Auston Matthews using his big frame and throwing himself a career high shot, or William Nylander leading the crease or Justin Holl scribbling whoever touches Jack Campbell’s glove, there are plenty of examples. “old” Leafs who lose their turn -the-other-cheeks.
“We are going to play physically ourselves. I don’t think we expected less, ”said Wayne Simmonds, who dropped the gloves with Montrealer Ben Chiarot at the season opener.
“It’s playoff time. Everyone is playing for a shot at winning the Stanley Cup, and I think it starts with the physical aspect first and foremost, so it’s not too new.
And the long list of new Leafs have all helped to increase their unquantifiable grain quotient. Nick Foligno, Zach Bogosian, Joe Thornton, Wayne “Punch Your Head Off” Simmonds… soft men are not. Zach Hyman and Jake Muzzin play a flawless game, and even rookie Rasmus Sandin has turned heads with his stiff shoulders. Ask Blake Wheeler.
“We have to be physical ourselves. Playoff hockey demands it, ”said Keefe.
“We know it will go to a greater degree in the playoffs here, as it will for our team as well. It’s just part of the deal. And whether it’s our players who have been on this squad for the last few years, they’ve grown through and are ready to face it, and the additions we’ve made to our squad throughout this season or during the off-season. will help us in this regard.
The second season presents a blank sheet to dispel the past and write new tales. And he inevitably wakes up with a triple burst of intensity.
Remember how Montreal led the NHL with 27.9 hits every 60 minutes in the regular season?
Well, 10 of the 12 playoff teams that have already played are on average at least 34 results for 60. The Vegas Golden Knights – Minnesota Wild series averages over 115 results per game.
The Canadians will double on the wrong start.
For the first game, coach Dominique Ducharme will seat younger, smarter and faster talents like Jesperi Kotkanimei, Alexander Romanov and Cole Caufield. He will go with strength and experience, hoping to turn this into a meat and potato, dump-and-crunch affair.
Add the welcome return of healthy Brendan Gallagher to Anderson and devious and savvy Corey Perry, and Montreal will take over Campbell’s kitchen.
Protecting the crease has been a mandate for the Leafs throughout the season, but it’s never been more critical than it is now. The trick will be to balance fierce defense with discipline so you don’t get sucked into the inevitable distractions.
“We have to compete, show ourselves and be there, but we can’t get caught up in any side shows,” Keefe said. “Our guys are going to be physical, and we’re going to be physical with intelligence and be very determined in the way we play.
“Like I said, we can play the game however you want, throughout our roster. And we need to know who the opposition is and what it is doing, what its strengths are. But the opposition also has a lot of concerns with us.
One-Timers: The Maple Leafs’ troubled power play will use a mix of two balanced units and one loaded unit in the series to keep Montreal on its toes…. Zach Bogosian (shoulder) is cleared to make contact and is expected to play soon. The defender took the line with Sandin during the third duo in training on Wednesday…. In-depth defenseman Ben Hutton is facing an undisclosed medical situation unrelated to COVID-19 or hockey. He hasn’t practiced with the club all week…. Martin Marincin was raised from the Marlies to join the black aces…. And the mayor of Toronto, John Tory, made a bet with the mayor of Montreal Valérie Plante on the series.