No. 1 Maple Leafs at No. 4 Canadiens
7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
Toronto leads best-of-7 series, 3-2
The Toronto Maple Leafs once again will attempt to win their first Stanley Cup Playoff Series since 2004 when they play the Montreal Canadiens in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup First Round at Bell Centre on Saturday.
The Maple Leafs have lost five straight chances to close a series since 2018, including a 4-3 overtime loss in to the Canadiens in Game 5 at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday.
A win would send the Maple Leafs to the Stanley Cup Second Round against the Winnipeg Jets. Toronto has not won a postseason series since defeating the Ottawa Senators 4-3 in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round in 2004.
Coach Sheldon Keefe said the Maple Leafs are not bothered by the past, instead focusing on their present.
“We feel good about our team,” he said. “We feel good about our chances. We feel good about how we’ve played in this series. We just have to go out and execute.”
Teams that hold a 3-2 lead are 328-87 (.790) winning a best-of-7 series, including 4-0 this season.
Forward Brendan Gallagher said the Canadiens are confident and not worried that the odds are against them. But he stopped short of making any promises.
“Nothing’s guaranteed,” he said. “I don’t think you’re going to get a Mark Messier quote from me. But I’ve said it all year: No matter what this group has gone from … belief has never been an issue.”
Messier, then a forward with the New York Rangers, guaranteed a victory against the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, then scored a hat trick in New York’s 4-2 victory.
Here are 3 keys for Game 6:
1. Fans in the stands
For the first time in 14 months there will be fans in the stands for an NHL game in Canada. There are expected to be 2,500 spectators in Bell Centre on Saturday.
“Having people back in the building tonight is a really good sign for our country,” Keefe said.
Canadiens forward Corey Perry agreed.
“The Bell Centre, to have some fans in it, it’s a special time of year and we’re excited,” he said.
Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner said the crowd doesn’t necessarily give Montreal a significant edge in terms of home-ice advantage.
“I’m sure there’ll be some blue and white in there as well,” he said. “We’ve played in front of fans before. It’s going to be fun playing in front of people again and hear people actually cheer, so we’re excited for it as well.”
2. Maple Leafs lineup tweaks
Nick Foligno took line rushes at center between forwards Alex Galchenyuk and William Nylander during Toronto’s morning skate and will be a game-time decision.
Foligno, who has missed the past three games with an undisclosed injury, would help Toronto’s forecheck and brings physicality.
Defenseman Travis Dermott will replace rookie Rasmus Sandin, who had a bad giveaway in Game 5.
“Rasmus is coming off of a tough night, just felt today going with ‘Dermy’ would be the right move for us today,” Keefe said. “Gives Rasmus a little more time to settle in. A combination of both learning from the previous game and gaining a little extra experience as he’s making his way through his first playoff series in the NHL.”
3. Can Canadiens repeat fast start?
Facing elimination in Game 5, the Canadiens came out with urgency and built a 2-0 lead 8:18 into the first period on two goals by forward Joel Armia.
Montreal coach Dominique Ducharme said he has told his team the importance of getting off to another fast start in Game 6.
“We talked about it, I talked at the press conference about it, about being more dynamic,” he said. “We talked about scoring goals.”
The Canadiens had the Maple Leafs chasing early in Game 5 and hope to follow that blueprint again.
Maple Leafs projected lineup
Zach Hyman — Auston Matthews — Mitchell Marner
Alex Galchenyuk — Nick Foligno — William Nylander
Ilya Mikheyev — Alexander Kerfoot — Wayne Simmonds
Joe Thornton — Pierre Engvall — Jason Spezza
Morgan Rielly — TJ Brodie
Jake Muzzin — Justin Holl
Travis Dermott — Zach Bogosian
Scratched: Rasmus Sandin, Adam Brooks, Riley Nash, Denis Malgin, Martin Marincin, David Rittich, Michael Hutchinson
Injured: John Tavares (concussion/knee), Ben Hutton (illness)
Canadiens projected lineup
Tomas Tatar — Phillip Danault — Brendan Gallagher
Tyler Toffoli — Nick Suzuki — Cole Caufield
Paul Byron — Jesperi Kotkaniemi — Josh Anderson
Joel Armia — Eric Staal — Corey Perry
Ben Chiarot — Shea Weber
Joel Edmundson — Jeff Petry
Brett Kulak — Erik Gustafsson
Injured: Jake Evans (undisclosed), Artturi Lehkonen (upper body), Jon Merrill (undisclosed)
Merrill, a defenseman, is expected to be out 1-2 weeks; Kulak will replace him in the lineup. … Evans practiced as an extra player at the morning skate and the forward is among a few game-time decisions, Ducharme said. … Lehkonen went on the ice after the morning skate but the forward will not play.