NHL Rivalry Breakdown: Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens

NHL Rivalry
MONTREAL, QC - FEBRUARY 08: Goaltender Jack Campbell #36 of the Toronto Maple Leafs allows a goal during the third period against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on February 8, 2020 in Montreal, Canada. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 in overtime. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Even as hockey leagues all over the world take a hiatus, the Last Word on Hockey team is still devoted to publishing quality content in the absence of live sports. Such begins a new series: the NHL Rivalry Breakdown.

Each article will take a look at two longtime rivals and break down how the rivalry came to be, how the teams stack up against each other currently, and how the matchup may look down the road. The second edition of our NHL Rivalry series: we take a look at the forever rivals in the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens.

NHL Rivalry: Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens

The Past

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens have a storied history as it dates back even before the formation of the Original Six. During this NHL rivalry, these two teams have met 818 times including playoffs. Montreal holds an edge over Toronto with a record of 401-318-88-11. This includes 359-289-88-11 record in the regular season and 42-29 record in the postseason. All in favour of the Canadiens.

During the early years of the NHL, the Canadiens and Maple Leafs met only twice in the playoffs. Toronto won the inaugural NHL Championship recognized by the NHL defeating Montreal. Toronto defeated the Montreal 10-7. When the two teams met again in 1925, the Canadiens returned the favour defeating Toronto 5-2. Interestingly these series were only two-game series determined by total goals. From there the winners went on to the Stanley Cup Final facing the champion of the other North America professional hockey league.

During the Original Six era, Toronto and Montreal were the only teams operating in Canada. Their rivalry only grew over those years. From 1944 through 1979 the Maple Leafs and Canadiens met in the playoffs 13 times. The Canadiens won eight of those series, while the Maple Leafs won six. Out of those 13 times, the two teams met in the Stanley Cup Finals five times, with Toronto winning three and Montreal winning two. This is how evenly matched these two teams were. While the Canadiens got the best of the Maple Leafs in their final playoff matchup in 1979, things came to head between in this NHL rivalry in the 1967 Stanley Cup Finals.

1967 Stanley Cup Final

This was the last time the Stanley Cup was awarded before the league’s expansion that summer. What makes 1967 so memorable is that it was the last time the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup. And they did over their rival the Canadiens. With Stanley Cup Finals happening during the Centennial Year of Canadian Confederation, it was expected that Montreal beat Toronto. With Montreal hosting Expo 67, and the Canadiens having a powerhouse lineup, the Maple Leafs were the clear underdog.

After taking the first game by a score of 6-2, it appeared things would be easy for the Canadiens. However, the Maple Leafs made a gusty call to replace Johnny Bower with Terry Sawchuk. That move was critical as it allowed the Maple Leafs to get back into the series. Toronto won the game by a score of 3-0. The Maple Leafs put Bower back in net for game three. Game three needed overtime with the teams exchanging goals in the first two periods. It was a thrilling and exciting game. Bob Pulford scored the winner in overtime to give the Maple Leafs the lead in the series.

While Bower has his name on the Cup, it was Sawchuk who was in net for when the Maple Leafs lifted the Stanley Cup. Sawchuk replaced Bower, who was injured in game four as the Canadiens tied the series with another 6-2 victory over their rivals. With the series heading back to Montreal, things looked good for the Canadiens. However, the Maple Leafs had other ideas. Toronto defeated Montreal 4-1 inside the Montreal Forum. When the series shifted back to Maple Leaf Gardens, Bower was in the lineup as a backup. Jim Pappin recorded his seventh goal of the playoffs as Sawchuk stopped 41 shots as Toronto won by a score of 3-1 to win the Stanley Cup.

The Present

For years the Canadiens and Maple Leafs were not in the same conference. Since that day in 1967, the Canadiens went on to win 10 Stanley Cups, while the Maple Leafs have yet to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final. While these teams still met in the regular season, the rivalry got reignited when the Maple Leafs joined the Eastern Conference in 1998. However, these teams have yet to meet in the playoffs.

The Canadiens always got the better of the Maple Leafs. From January 18, 2014, until October 14, 2017, the Canadiens enjoyed a 14 game winning streak over Toronto. On that October night, the Maple Leafs got the better of their rival winning 4-3 in overtime. Toronto’s new star Auston Matthews scored the winning goal. This win for Toronto also marked the first win in Montreal in over four years, stretching back to October 1, 2013.

Toronto: Offensive Firepower

Currently, the Maple Leafs are a team that is more offensively focused. The team is paying about $40 million to four players. The way Toronto is currently put together, they have a hard time reacting to when a team punches them in the face. They do not have enough grit to win the Stanley Cup. And while the Maple Leafs on paper should beat the Canadiens when these two rivals meet, just look at the make of this roster. Top to bottom they should be better than they are, but they have struggled against Montreal this season.

Zach HymanAuston MatthewsWilliam Nylander

Kasperi KapanenJohn TavaresMitch Marner

Andreas JohnssonAlexander KerfootIlya Mikheyev

Kyle CliffordFrederik GauthierJason Spezza 

Morgan RiellyTyson Barrie 

Jake MuzzinCody Ceci 

Travis DermottJustin Holl

Frederik Andersen

Jack Campbell

In three games this season, the Canadiens hold a 3-0 edge over their rivals. Regardless of how bad a team is, but when rivals meet it is another story. Offensively, Toronto has the skill on their first two lines. The only guy that has shown grit is Hyman. There is a reason he plays on Matthews’s line. Hyman gets into the dirty areas and gets the puck to Matthews and Nylander. The second line has the duo of Tavares and Marner. These two guys have got a lot of chemistry ever since signed with the Maple Leafs. Kapanen can be a support guy on that line. But what is his future with the team?

Looking at the next two lines, when healthy is good enough to compete with the top teams in the NHL. The addition of Clifford has given them the grit they were missing. Kerfoot has yet to find a role with the Maple Leafs since coming over from the Colorado Avalanche in the Nazem Kadri trade. While Kadri took himself out of the game when it mattered most, he brought a presence Toronto could use come playoff time.

Speaking of that, their defence is better than last year but still is weak. When healthy, their top four can stack up with the rest in the Atlantic Division. Having Muzzin locked up along with Rielly is a good foundation to start with going forward. It will be interesting to see if the team keeps Ceci and Barrie around. However, they should be a lot better than they are.

Toronto’s goaltending was bad to start to the season. They did not have a suitable backup for Andersen until Campbell arrived. He has been able to take the load off of Andersen.

Montreal: The Canadiens Go As Carey Price Goes

Ever since Carey Price came to the Canadiens and signed that massive deal, the team goes as Price goes. The Canadiens have talent, but some questionable decisions by general manager Marc Bergevin have set this team back. Not having a suitable backup goalie for the off injured Price is one of them. Also trading Mikhail Sergachev for Drouin not ideal. But the Canadiens are 3-0 against the Maple Leafs with their current lineup.

Tomas Tatar – Phillip Danault Joel Armia

Jonathan DrouinMax DomiBrendan Gallagher

Artturi Lehkonen Nick Suzuki – Jordan Weal

Paul ByronJake EvansDale Weise

Ben Chiarot – Shea Weber

Victor MeteJeff Petry

Brett Kulak Christian Folin

Carey Price

Charlie Lindgren

Like the Maple Leafs, the Canadiens have been injured this season. Yet, somehow they still have an edge on their rivals. Guys like Tatar, Gallagher, and Domi have gotten under the skin of the skilled players of the Maple Leafs. Not to mention the Canadiens powerplay capitalized on their chances and the Maple Leafs did not. While the Canadiens may be less talented, they have a work ethic that drives Toronto crazy. There are no big names on offence, the Canadiens just find ways to score goals. But the big problem for the Canadiens recently has been scoring goals. They need a player that be that go-to scorer and they just don’t have it. Drouin has the scoring ability to be a top scorer in the league. However, it is all mental for him. Maybe that player is on the horizon.

Defensively, the Canadiens are pretty sound. With Weber, Chiarot, and Petry on the backend, the Canadiens have a solid top three. Petry is clearly in the future for the Canadiens or else he would have been traded at the deadline. Montreal is hoping that Mete can transform into a solid top-four defenceman. However, like most young defenceman it takes time. Unfortunately in a city like Montreal, they want a winner now.

Looking at goaltending, Price has the edge over Andersen when healthy. However, it all depends on which Price shows up. When Price is on his game, the Canadiens are challenging for a playoff spot, when he is not, they are on the outside looking in. And the Canadiens do not have a suitable on the roster. But that could change real soon.

The Future

The future is bright for both teams. Toronto will get better defensively with guys like Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren in the AHL. Both guys are playing well for the Toronto Marlies. While both have seen time at the NHL, they still have a ways to go before they are mainstays in the lineup. However, once they get to the big club they will be right into the mix in this rivalry.

For the Canadiens, their offensive weapons and goalie are on their way. While Cole Caufield will remain at Wisconsin for another season, Ryan Poehling and Jesperi Kotkaniemi are in the AHL developing their games. Caufield is a goal scorer but needs time to develop. Poehling has shown he can play in the NHL given the right situation. Same with Kotkaniemi. Also, the Canadiens have Cayden Primeau in their system. Primeau saw time with the big club but needs a year of development before being thrown into the backup position.

The future is bright for both teams and the rivalry between the Canadiens and Maple Leafs can only go up. With the talent coming and on the roster, there is no reason why fans can’t see this NHL rivalry renewed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the future.

That does it for this edition of the NHL rivalry series, keep your eyes peeled for the next installment on Tuesday, March 24th.

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images


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Jim is a 2008 graduate of Saint Michaels College who is currently writing about the NHL for Last Word on Hockey. His work includes writing about the New Jersey Devils as well as NHL Notebooks for the Metro and Central Division. Jim has a passion for the game of hockey. As one coach put it "he is the student of the game." When Jim is not writing he can be found at the local rinks playing or being a referee. Throughout his time in the game, Jim continues to coach a local high school team. In addition, he broadcasted several New Jersey Junior Rockets games for the Eastern Hockey League. Reach him on Twitter: @JimBiringer


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