The Montreal Canadiens are relishing an unexpected opportunity to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Having survived consecutive elimination games with overtime victories, the Canadiens will face the Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup First Round at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Monday (7 p.m. ET, CNBC, CBC, SN, TVAS), with the winner advancing to meet the Winnipeg Jets in the second round.
“We have confidence. We’re going to Toronto so we can go to Winnipeg,” Montreal coach Dominique Ducharme said Sunday, 12 hours after his team defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime of Game 6. “It’s a group of 20 players pushing in the same direction to achieve something that many believe is impossible.”
It is no longer impossible.
The Canadiens, a heavy underdog at the start of the series as the No. 4 seed from the Scotia North Division, have much of the momentum heading into the second Game 7 in the rich history of this rivalry.
Montreal was able to recover after blowing a three-goal lead in Game 5 and a two-goal lead in the third period of Game 6, when it became the first team in NHL history to surrender a multigoal third-period lead in consecutive playoff games when facing elimination and win each of them.
Toronto’s best defenseman, Jake Muzzin, is questionable after sustaining a lower-body injury in Game 6, and its two biggest offensive players have found it hard to gain traction in this series.
Auston Matthews has scored four points (one goal, three assists) through six games and Mitchell Marner has four assists. During the regular season, Matthews led the NHL with 41 goals in 52 games, and Marner was fourth in the League with 67 points (20 goals, 47 assists) in 55 games.
Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell will be playing in his seventh NHL playoff game, all in this series. Carey Price of the Canadiens will make his 74th playoff start and fourth in a Game 7; he is 2-1 with a 1.62 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in the previous three.
Also for the Canadiens is captain Shea Weber, who has been among the tone-setters in helping them rally from down 3-1 in the series.
In Game 6, the 35-year-old defenseman had four shots, one hit and three blocks while playing 37:09, which wasn’t merely the game high among all skaters, but also the most he had seen since he played 49:07 for the Nashville Predators in a 4-3 triple overtime win against the San Jose Sharks in Game 4 of the 2016 Western Conference Second Round. In Weber’s career, which spans 1,038 regular-season games and 81 playoff games, he’s only had more ice time three times.
“You can look at the stats and power-play goals and assists, what [Weber] does on the power-play, but he brings so much more to the group,” Ducharme said. “The way he plays, his presence on the ice … for the other team, playing against Shea is not something easy. His experience and will to go further and make the most of this opportunity inspires a group.”
Game 7 is an apt finish to this series between the NHL’s two oldest teams, who are meeting in their 16th playoff series since 1918, and 14th in a best-of-7 format since 1944.
Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot won the only Game 7 he’s played in the NHL, a 5-1 victory with the Jets against the Predators in the 2018 Western Conference Second Round. He’s eager for his second.
“The most fun you’re ever going to have playing hockey is a Game 7,” Chiarot said. “For me, the key is you play loose. A Game 7 is a high-pressure situation. Guys can tend to get tight, but I think for us it’s to just stay loose, just play the game and enjoy it.”
This will be the 24th time since 1941 that the Canadiens have played a Game 7 (14-9 overall, 6-6 on the road). Their most recent was a 3-1 victory against the Boston Bruins in the 2014 Eastern Conference Second Round.
The Maple Leafs are heading into their 25th Game 7 since 1941 (12-12 overall, 7-1 at home). Their most recent was also against the Bruins, losing 5-1 in the 2019 Eastern Conference First Round.
But with the season on the line, Toronto has history between these teams on its side, even after consecutive losses.
The only other time the Maple Leafs and Canadiens played a Game 7 was at the Montreal Forum in the 1964 semifinals, when Toronto legend Dave Keon scored a hat trick in a 3-1 victory. It would precede Toronto’s third consecutive Stanley Cup championship, won in a seven-game Final against the Detroit Red Wings.