Well, it wasn’t exactly how fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs scripted it. For the first time since 1979, their beloved Maple Leafs were sharing the ice with the rival Montreal Canadiens in the postseason and they came up just short – losing 2-1 to the Canadiens in Game 1 of their first-round series.
In the process, the Maple Leafs lost their captain to a frightening injury and continued the lack of success they had in the regular season when it came to their power play. Simply put, it was a tough night for the Maple Leafs and their faithful, but here’s what can be taken away from Game 1 of their North Division series.
Tavares Likely Out
To say the injury was frightening might be an understatement. Already on his way down, Maple Leafs’ captain John Tavares took Corey Perry’s shin to his head before falling to the ice motionless. He was eventually stretchered off and transported to hospital where he will remain overnight.
The seriousness of the injury wasn’t determined right away, but it was clear there was concern both on the ice and amongst management, and from both squads, for Tavares’ health.
For a few minutes, the game was put on hold and we were reminded how important these players’ health is. It was a reminder of how quickly things can happen on the ice. That hockey is just a game. Still, reports following the game, were that Tavares was conscious and communicating well at the hospital and that tests came back ‘clear,’ according to Elliotte Friedman.
As for the game, it unravelled for the Maple Leafs from there – physically and mentally.
Maple Leafs Still Battered by Canadiens
One of the biggest additions this offseason for the Maple Leafs was their toughness – Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton and Nick Foligno later in the year. The goal was to build a roster readied for the postseason grind that they would face. But if Game 1 was any indication, the Maple Leafs are still in tough against a Canadiens team that was built for the exact same thing.
Following the injury, Foligno and Perry went in a spirited bout. Sure, it was likely unnecessary and while some hate fighting in the game, it is still part of the game. Foligno’s reasoning was that they saw their captain on the ice and he felt like he needed to address it. Perry reiterated Foligno’s comments and noted that he wanted to get it out of the way.
Regardless of your thoughts on the matter, it happened. Hockey Twitter, breath. It’s done with. But that was really the only area the Maple Leafs showed an edge in physicality.
The Canadiens out hit the Maple Leafs 55 to 27 and where it really showed was when Montreal got in their faces after the whistle – with the Maple Leafs faltering in that aspect. After all, it’s playoff hockey and the whistle only signifies the beginning of the scrums.
Most noteworthy is that the Maple Leafs’ leaders in the hit department were Auston Matthews (5), Zach Hyman (4) and Jason Spezza (3) – not entirely your usual suspects.
Still, that’s not to say the Maple Leafs didn’t have their chances. In fact, the Habs’ physical play led to four power play opportunities for the Maple Leafs. But those actually hurt them more than it helped.
Maple Leafs’ Power Play, Their Achilles Heel
It was a questionable part of their game heading into the playoffs – a known problem all season long. And it seems that they’ve carried their power play woes into the postseason. Sure, the Canadiens didn’t fair much better – going 0-for-5 on their chances – but the Maple Leafs lost and had no goals on four opportunities of their own. Oh, and the game-winner for Montreal, came while they were a man down.
Still, Carey Price faced seven high-danger shots throughout the game, stopping six of them. And saw another eight medium-danger chances from the Maple Leafs, stopping all of them. However, on the power play, the Maple Leafs have zero high-danger shots and zero medium-danger shots – a telling stat considering how much their power play has struggled this season.
Was it just a case of the Maple Leafs running into a hot, playoff-ready Carey Price? Doubtful. They didn’t help themselves when they had the chances and that’s why they will enter Game 2 down one game to the Canadiens.
That’s not to take anything away from Price, who stopped 35 of 36 shots. But the Maple Leafs’ best players need to be better. It’s simple.
Also Worth Noting…
Travis Dermott was scratched in favour of the returning Zach Bogosian and Rasmus Sandin who has seemingly found a home in the Maple Leafs lineup. Dermott had six points in 51 games this season and has five points in 19 career playoff games for the Maple Leafs.
It’s time to remind Leafs Nation that a big breath should be taken. The team has lost one game. That’s it – one game. Don’t blow this thing up yet – and remember, an injury to Tavares could deflate a team just as much as it can motivate. That was a hard thing to watch.
Regardless, both teams will suit up again for Game 2 of their series on Saturday. It’ll be a heated affair as these games usually are and the Maple Leafs will be looking to even the series or risk going down 2-0.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.