No. 4 Canadiens at No. 1 Maple Leafs
7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
Toronto leads best-of-7 series, 3-1
The Toronto Maple Leafs will look to win their first Stanley Cup Playoff series in 17 years when they host the Montreal Canadiens in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup First Round at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday.
The Maple Leafs have won three straight following a 2-1 Canadiens victory in Game 1. 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.
The Maple Leafs have never won four consecutive playoff games against the Canadiens.
Defenseman Morgan Rielly said Toronto’s loss in five games to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers last season remains fresh in his mind and is one of the incentives to finish the series Thursday.
“Here tonight, I think we understand what’s at stake, what it’s going to take to get the job done,” Rielly said Thursday. “So it’s important that we prepare.
“They’re going to come with their best so it’s going to be a challenge.”
Montreal understands having to win three consecutive games to advance to the second round is a daunting task. Teams that hold a 3-1 lead in a best-of-7 series are 293-29 (91.0 percent), including 2-0 this season.
Forward Brendan Gallagher said the Canadiens must avoid being overwhelmed by the moment.
“You have to take a step away from the whole situation and realize we are playing in the National Hockey League, playing in the playoffs, playing in an awesome rivalry with a lot of emotion,” Gallagher said. “It’s fun. It should be fun. We should be able to enjoy it.”
Here are 3 keys to Game 5:
1. Canadiens’ scoring woes
Montreal’s struggling offense has produced four goals in four games. Two of them have come in the past 187:16, going back to forward Paul Byron‘s winning goal at 12:44 of the third period in Game 1.
Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell has done a good job with his rebound control when he’s not smothering the initial shots, and the Toronto defense has effectively cleared out the front of the net to allow Campbell to see shots coming in.
The bottom line: The Canadiens have talked the talk when it comes to getting more traffic in front of the net; now it’s time to walk the walk. Gallagher said Toronto has prioritized keeping Montreal on the outside and clearing the front of the net.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” he said.
2. Maple Leafs’ secondary scoring
Center Auston Matthews (41) and forward Mitchell Marner (20) combined for 61 goals during the regular season. They’ve combined for one in this series, by Matthews in Toronto’s 5-1 victory in Game 2.
But that hasn’t been a problem for the Maple Leafs. Though Montreal has focused its attention on stopping Toronto’s top two offensive threats, seven other Maple Leafs players have scored goals, including forward William Nylander, who leads them with four.
Management vowed to improve Toronto’s depth after last season, and the results through the first four games of the series suggest they’ve improved in that department. Forwards Joe Thornton and Alex Galchenyuk each has scored a goal in this series; neither was with the Maple Leafs in 2019-20.
3. Montreal power play vs. Toronto penalty killing
The Canadiens power play is 0-for-13 in the series and for the most part has not looked dangerous. Montreal will attempt to change those fortunes by inserting defenseman Erik Gustafsson, a power-play specialist, into the lineup for his 2021 playoff debut.
“We’ve got to move the puck quicker,” Gustafsson said.
Credit the Maple Leafs’ penalty killers for disrupting any rhythm the Canadiens have attempted to establish by playing an aggressive pressure game, led by Marner, whose speed has led to a number of shorthanded chances.
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
Joel Edmundson — Jeff Petry
Ben Chiarot — Shea Weber
Erik Gustafsson — Jon Merrill
Injured: Jake Evans (undisclosed), Artturi Lehkonen (upper body)
Maple Leafs projected lineup
Zach Hyman — Auston Matthews — Mitchell Marner
Alex Galchenyuk — Alexander Kerfoot — William Nylander
Ilya Mikheyev — Pierre Engvall — Wayne Simmonds
Joe Thornton — Adam Brooks — Jason Spezza
Morgan Rielly — TJ Brodie
Jake Muzzin — Justin Holl
Rasmus Sandin — Zach Bogosian
Scratched: Riley Nash, Denis Malgin, Travis Dermott, Martin Marincin, David Rittich, Michael Hutchinson
Injured: John Tavares (concussion/knee), Nick Foligno (lower body) Ben Hutton (illness)
Gustafsson will replaced Kulak, a defenseman. … Tavares skated for about 20 minutes prior to the morning skate Thursday; it was the center’s first time on the ice since he was injured in Game 1 but coach Sheldon Keefe said there is no timeline for his return. … Foligno, a forward expected to miss his third straight game, was on the ice with Tavares. … Sandin, a healthy scratch in Game 4, will replace Dermott, a defenseman.