Maple Leafs Turning Canadiens’ Physicality Against Them

The problem with playing a physical brand of hockey is that, if you’re not careful, it can be hard to keep your head about you. You can only be just a little bit out of control. But, when physicality loses control, your ability to reason goes with it.

The Canadiens’ Slippery Slope from Physical to Out of Control

Once you are no longer reason(able), that’s a slippery slope. Because when you aren’t thinking straight, you double down by ignoring the reality of your context. That can lead to panic. After panic, the bottom of that slippery-slopped hill is crazy. And, although crazy can create mayhem and chaos, it can’t win Stanley Cups.

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During Game 2 of the Stanley Cup series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, we saw the Canadiens lose their heads on the ice. Although they were creating chaos and mayhem, they forgot that in the context of NHL hockey the referees are ultimately in control. And the paid a penalty – actually four of them – for it.

The Coach’s Challenge Was Panic on Display

Honestly, the coach’s challenge on Rasmus Sandin’s power-play goal was simply panic on display. To a reasonable eye, there here was little chance it could succeed. However, the Canadiens did it anyway.

When they lost that challenge, they were on the run for two more minutes. As a result, the Canadiens played almost half of the entire second period short-handed. In addition, they allowed what had been a moribund Maple Leafs’ power play a chance to practice its craft. Given’s the Maple Leafs’ firepower, that isn’t such a good plan.

Toronto Maple Leafs Ilya Mikheyev Alexander Kerfoot Morgan Rielly Rasmus Sandin
Toronto Maple Leafs Ilya Mikheyev, Alexander Kerfoot, Morgan Rielly and Rasmus Sandin celebrate a goal. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

That was the good old hockey Game 2 for them. It will also likely be the series – unless the Canadiens can change things successfully for Game 3. The question is, can they make such a change.

Game 1 Sent the Maple Leafs on a Mission

Game 1 was a physical game. It was also marked by a devastating injury to the Maple Leafs’ captain John Tavares. That hit takes Tavares out of the series, which benefits the Canadians. However, it might also benefit the Maple Leafs because it gives them something to rally around and play for.

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Given the combination of Josh Anderson’s prediction that “It’s going to be a war out there.” and the devastating Tavares’ injury at the knee of Corey Perry – who carried into the game a nasty reputation anyway, even if the injury were accidental (which is my call) it didn’t turn out well for the Maple Leafs. That’s why I believe Nick Foligo felt he had to fight: if he hadn’t, it would have seemed like a challenge unanswered. That would have been an admission of weakness.

Nick Foligno Morgan Rielly Mitchell Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Foligno, Morgan Rielly and Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Tavares’ injury gave the Maple Leafs a mission and – furthermore – a reason for keeping their heads and responding wisely to the Canadiens’ pre-series challenge. That’s also why I predict the Maple Leafs will win the series with the Canadians, because they are on a mission.

During an interview with Wayne Simmonds between the first and second periods and at a time when the team knew nothing about Tavares’ status except that he was sent to the hospital after being stretchered off the ice, Simmonds said that the team would “have to win this one for Johnny.” Although the team didn’t win Game 1, they won Game 2. I believe they will win the series just for that reason.

Auston Matthews Responds In Two Ways

Auston Matthews not only responded by scoring a goal during Game 2, but he responded in two other ways. First, he was physically dominant on the ice. He absolutely bowled over a Canadiens’ player with a clean on-ice hit. But he also responded by essentially mocking the Canadiens’ physicality in a sequence behind Carey Price’s net.  

During that sequence, Matthews drew a penalty on Ben Chiarot. Chiarot took a slide down that slippery slope, where physicality turned into ignorance and then into crazy. There was no way that Chiarot could not have drawn a penalty on that play, and there was no way that Matthews’ attitude could not have infuriated the Canadiens’ players.

What Happens in Game 3?

If the Canadiens have any expectations of winning this series, they can only do so by keeping their heads. During Game 2, they showed an inability to do that. Instead, the Canadians responded by panicking, which is never a good plan for a team that expects to win a Stanley Cup playoff series.

How will each team respond during Game 3 tonight? It strikes me that the Maple Leafs have laid down a plan and their mission. Now, they’re watching to see what happens with the Canadiens.

It also strikes me that the Canadians have a difficult decision to make about how they’ll continue during this playoff series. As Game 2 has shown, they simply cannot continue to play the way they’ve played and expect to win the series.

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However, how can the Canadiens respond? Line to line, they’re simply outgunned. In addition, with the injury to Tavares, they are also out-missioned.

But they do have Carey Price.