Any way you slice it, the Toronto Maple Leafs are waltzing into their first-round series against the Montreal Canadiens as overwhelming favourites. A whopping 18 standings points separate the two sides in the first playoff matchup between the two classic rivals since 1979.
A four-game sweep by the eight-seed Columbus Blue Jackets over the Presidents’ Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning in 2019 is enough evidence that nothing is guaranteed.
For a team that’s been unable to win a playoff series since 2004, there’s legitimate nerves throughout the Leafs organization and the fan base that they could find a way to muck this series up.
Still, if this best-of-seven against Montreal is anything but a tune-up for Toronto, it would be extremely unexpected.
Somebody’s gotta sweep in the first round, and somebody’s gotta get swept. Don’t be surprised if the final result is the Leafs winning the series in four games.
Here are seven reasons why the Leafs can, and should steamroll the Canadiens in a lopsided matchup that gets underway Thursday night.
1. The decline of Shea Weber
Once a staple of Norris conversations, Shea Weber just isn’t quite the top-pairing stud he was known for during the majority of his career.
He’s also currently day-to-day with an injury, but you’d imagine he’ll find a way to factor in this series, being the captain and all.
He’s getting hit by natural fatigue and who knows what the remainder of his contract ending in 2026 will look like. Weber is allowing more shot attempts against per 60 minutes than any other Habs d-man and put up just eight points this season at even strength.
Might be predicting something before it happens, but put your money down that there will be a crucial goal in this series where Weber gets absolutely walked by Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner and the camera pans to him with his head down.
2. In-season record
The Leafs have won seven of the team’s 10 games against Montreal this year, while picking up another point in an overtime loss. Montreal’s two regulation wins have both been one-goal games late into the third period, with their 4-2 victory on April 12 being their only multi-goal win over the Leafs this year.
Not every game has been a blowout, but it hasn’t presented too much of a challenge for the Leafs either, and they’ve been in every game right to the end.
3. The forward talent isn’t close
The Leafs have spent a lot of money on their top-end forwards… who have all put up remarkable numbers.
Auston Matthews collected his first Rocket Richard trophy with a remarkable 41 goals in just 52 games. Captain John Tavares’ “down year” still saw him put up 19 goals and 31 assists, a 72-point pace over a full season. And Mitch Marner led the team in scoring with 20 goals and 47 assists. Each of those guys scored more points than any Canadien (Tyler Toffoli led the team with 42 points.)
Simply, the upper end of Toronto’s offence should be too much for the Habs to keep up with.
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4. Playing the percentages
Most NHL playoff series are closer to a coin-flip than many people want to admit, with the odds usually favouring either side no more than 55-60%.
The Leafs are legitimately off the charts in how the oddsmakers feel about them. The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn gives the Leafs an 83% chance to advance, while MoneyPuck.com gives the Leafs a 74.9% chance of moving to the second round.
The Leafs even have greater odds in both spots than Tampa Bay and Carolina of winning their first round matchup… who already have a 1-0 lead in their respective series.
5. Gallagher and Price’s injuries
Brendan Gallagher hasn’t played an NHL game since April 5 due to a broken thumb. Meanwhile, Carey Price is recovering from a concussion that’s sidelined him since April 19.
The pair skated this week in an AHL conditioning game for the Laval Rocket, but that’s not exactly inspiring confidence that they’ll be fully up to speed come Thursday night.
6. Ducharme’s aversion to playing his youth
Cole Caufield and Jesperi Kotkaniemi were both being played on the team’s fifth line this week, a sign that the pair could be healthy scratches to kick off the series.
Whatever issue Montreal head coach Dominic Ducharme has with the two players, it is some real galaxy-brain nonsense to assume they’ve got 12 better forward options than those two. You’re already facing an incredible challenge ahead of you. Let the kids play.
7. No one is hungrier than the Leafs vets
Nick Foligno. Wayne Simmonds. Jason Spezza. Joe Thornton. What a conglomerate of 30-plus forwards to have in the mix. Sure, you could point to Jeff Petry or Corey Perry, or even Eric Staal as guys looking to make a big championship run for Montreal.
But they don’t get the confidence to play with the rest of the roster that the Leafs have.
Nothing from the Habs regular season — save for a hot month of January — suggests they have any real shot of winning the Stanley Cup this year. If they did, they’d likely have shown something better than the league’s 18th best points percentage.