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Habs are preferable playoff opponent; Leafs vs. Rangers

February 10, 2019, 10:51 AM ET [1225 Comments]
Mike Augello
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The Toronto Maple Leafs begin their six game road swing on a winning note, as John Tavares scored his 33rd goal on a great pass from Mitch Marner in a 4-3 overtime victory over the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Saturday.

Andreas Johnsson, Nikita Zaitsev, William Nylander and Tavares scored for Toronto and Frederik Andersen made 35 saves in their fourth straight victory.



“It was a tight hockey game for the most part but it was fast, but the game was played at a very high level & you could see the competitiveness & everyone fighting for every inch out there so it’s a big two points and we’re happy to get it." Tavares said. "Once you get to this point of the season and you see where (Montreal) are in the standings, it's no fluke. They obviously have an identity to their team. They're playing well. They're playing with confidence and they're getting results."

The Leafs overcame a couple of sluggish starts, surrendering the opening goal to Andrew Shaw 51 seconds into the game and Tomas Tatar’s tally 1:13 into the middle frame, but they responded quickly to prevent the Montreal crowd from building any momentum.

Johnsson’s tying goal and Zaitsev’s long shot past Carey Price were before the five minute mark of the first and after Brendan Gallagher scored on the power play midway through the third, Nylander tied the game 3-3 just 71 seconds later.

“It’s their home ice and they scored right away and you feel they get energy from that. To score right away was important to quiet down the building a little bit and get some time and space and then we had the second too and then a big one in the third.” Johnsson said after the game.




Both games between the long time rivals have gone to overtime and each one has served to whet the appetite for a possible playoff matchup. In spite of how close the outcomes have been, facing the Habs in a first round might be the best possible opponent for the Leafs.

There is never any guarantee when it comes to the postseason, but the Canadiens appear to be a more favorable matchup for Toronto than Boston. Montreal is speedy, plays well defensively, has some feistiness and a great goaltender in Price. The Leafs can combat that with their abundant speed and skill, but they will have a difficult time combating the Bruins more physical style, neutralizing one of the best lines in hockey in Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak and overcoming the psychological advantage they appear to have over the Leafs.



Toronto plays in New York on Sunday night against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Garret Sparks is expected to get the start in the second of back-to-back games and other than the possible insertion of Tyler Ennis, no lineup changes are expected.

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TRADE CHATTER

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman indicated on HNIC’s Saturday Headlines that the Leafs are looking for rental help and might have interest in Carolina forward Michael Ferland, but that they are not willing to deal top prospects Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren or their 2020 first round pick.

Ferland has been mentioned along with Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds as the leading power forward rentals, and that the Hurricanes have been looking for a first round pick in exchange for the big 26-year-old left winger.

Interest from the Leafs does make sense since they do need some size in their top nine and bolstering of left side with Connor Brown playing his off wing and Par Lindholm playing out of position.

It also adds up in that Ferland is relatively inexpensive with a $1.75 Million cap hit, but Carolina is reportedly looking for scoring (and have not received many bites at their high asking price) and may keep him as an own-rental with them in the Eastern Conference wildcard race.


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Condolences go out to the friends and family of Mike Spittal, who was killed in an explosion at his home in Cambridge, ON on Wednesday.

Spittal was a long time reader and commenter on Hockeybuzz and there is a GoFundMe page to help his family through this trying time.

If interested in contributing, go to: https://www.gofundme.com/mike-spittal

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