If there were crowds on Wednesday night at the Bell Center, the Maple Leafs would have silenced them.
That’s because the Leafs scored early, scored late and scored majestically, guaranteeing a place in the playoffs by winning a 4-1 victory over their historic rivals.
If there is satisfaction in securing a place in the playoffs – for the fifth consecutive season – and doing so against the Montreal Canadiens, the Leafs did not show it, the celebration was silenced by an empty arena.
“For a long time we have felt like a playoff team, but you still need to do that. It’s part of the journey, ”said coach Sheldon Keefe. “We told our team before the game that we had the opportunity to do it on our terms, so it is better to finish and take care of it.
“But we also had to think about it and feel good about it. It is such a good achievement, doing this here with the remaining games and being the first team in the division to achieve this, is a great thing.
“We also recognize that we are working on bigger things.”
Veteran Joe Thornton said the same thing in less words: “The first leg has been completed”.
Last year, the Leafs – like everyone else – had a decisive celebration denied since the season was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. The Leafs were simply placed in an expanded playoff last summer, losing in qualifying.
Decisive moment: The Leafs conquered their defining moment this time, with Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Jake Muzzin and Adam Brooks defeating goalkeeper Jake Allen. Matthews’ goal was the most majestic, coming in a fall in the air and a shot from a wrist rifle for the sniper’s 17th goal in 21 games against Montreal. It was the winner.
“What a treat to watch,” Leafs goalkeeper Jack Campbell said of Matthews’ goal. “It was a big goal for us in the hockey game. He’s just showing that he’s a world-class player. It shows every night, and that goal is just a little glimpse of what we see every day. We are definitely very grateful and lucky to have you by our side. “
Nick Suzuki scored the only goal at Campbell, but Montreal showed more life than expected, playing without major players after a long journey, his 20th game in 35 nights.
The Leafs defeated the Canadiens for the fifth time in seven games and became the first team in the North to have won the title. They receive the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday and Saturday.
The last time the Leafs made it to the playoffs five times in a row was with Pat Quinn as coach. They got six straight then, from 1998-99 to 2003-04. The Leafs of Quinn reached the conference finals twice, losing to Buffalo in 1999 and Carolina in 2002. This group led by names like Matthews, Mitch Marner and Nylander – together since 2016 – failed to make it out of the opening round.
“The focus for the rest of the way is to keep trying to play good hockey,” said veteran striker Jason Spezza. “It is very important for us to maintain our identity, to keep working on things. We have some things that we’re working on, minor tweaks to our game.
“We need to keep playing good hockey, develop good habits and keep trying to win.”
- Under the microscope: Morgan Rielly and Alex Galchenyuk were two players in the crosshairs recently. Rielly came into play without scoring in six consecutive games. Galchenyuk, likewise, has seen his contributions diminish since his first positive impressions.
- Neither is considered a producer of prime points, but more is expected recently. Rielly ended the drought with two assists in the first period. Galchenyuk talked about his game before the game.
“Obviously, in the last few games, I think I could definitely bring more and do better,” said Galchenyuk. “I know I can bring more and play better.”
- Marcos: With an assist in the first period, Marner reached the mark of 60 points before his 50th game for the third time in his career (46 games in 2018-19, 49 in 2019-20) – the first in the history of the Leafs. Darryl Sittler and Doug Gilmour did it twice … With an assist to Muzzin’s goal, Thornton became the seventh player to register 1,100 assists, joining Wayne Gretzky (1,963), Ron Francis (1,249), Mark Messier ( 1,193), Ray Bourque (1,169), Jaromir Jagr (1,155) and Paul Coffey (1,135) … With two assists, Spezza won his 965th and 966th points, drawing Maurice (Rocket) Richard by 99th of all time.
- Ais in the squad: The Habs are limping toward the playoffs. The best goalkeeper Carey Price remains out due to a concussion, pepper striker Brendan Gallagher is out with a concussion and pivot Paul Byron and shooter Tomas Tatar lost the game due to undisclosed injuries. In addition, one of its main wings, Jonathan Drouin, stepped away from the game for personal reasons. Coach Dominique Ducharme was asked if he thought Drouin would return to the playoffs. “The most important thing now is for Drouin to take care of what he needs to take care of,” said Ducharme. “So when I hear his name this morning, I don’t think about hockey. I think about the person. ”… The Leafs remain without goalkeeper Frederik Andersen (knee), striker Zach Hyman (knee) and defender Zach Bogosian (shoulder).
- Playoff preview: fans and the media may be waiting for a Leafs-Canadiens playoff in a few weeks. The historic franchises have not been in the postseason since 1979. But, having heard the players and the coach talk about it, the team is not getting ahead.
“There would be a lot of excitement, of course,” said Galchenyuk, a former Canadien. “The rivalry has been going on for many years. But at the same time, our focus is one day at a time. “Or as Keefe put it,” We are not going to get carried away. We will focus only on the remaining games. “
- Marlies Update: The Toronto Marlies returned to training on Wednesday, their quarantine after a now-outbreak of COVID. It is an important development for the Leafs, who can again ensure that their best candidates and others in the taxi squad participate in the games, rather than rusting in the press. Speculation is mounting, for example, that Andersen will play a few games for the Marlies on his way back to recovery.
- “First of all for them, I know it’s a relief to have a little chat with (coach) Greg Moore here, it has been a difficult two weeks,” said Keefe. “Greg was excited to get back to work and, at the same time, of course, he plays a role for us and our team – not just with what we’re doing here now, but for the future of the organization these games and these guys continue their development and stay ready if or when needed. “