There was a playoff-like atmosphere in the air between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday, even if no one is quite certain whether they’ll actually play one another.
They’re acting as though they will, however, which is just as well given there’s a roughly 60- to 65-per-cent chance they meet in the postseason for the first time in 34 years.
And no one was eager to say anything to start the series off on the wrong foot.
“The game is played on the ice,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. “Any statements, or any of that stuff, to me that’s all something I don’t even think about.”
“We know with the playoffs, everybody’s going to be watching every word you say, every little quote, but I don’t care,” said Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban, who held court with a huge media contingent before both teams’ final game. “You’re not going to get any bulletin board stuff from me. And I don’t think anybody else in this room.”
Not that the media won’t try to unearth some.
The “bulletin board” material on this day was pretty tame – Joffrey Lupul innocuously pointing out on Friday that the obviously larger Leafs were “bigger and stronger” seemed to be enough to get tongues wagging – but both coaches were cagey in their press conferences after the morning skate.
On the Habs side, Michel Therrien opted to sit No. 1 goalie Carey Price in favour of backup Peter Budaj, a move the coach said had been in the works for a while but that had the appearance of being in response to the netminder’s poor play against the Leafs this season.
(Price has a 1-3-0 record and .840 save percentage in four games after playing pretty well against Toronto previously in his career.)
“Quite honestly, I like the way Carey Price has been playing this week,” Therrien said. “I know he’s confident, he’s square to the puck, he looked big in net and he’s our best player. I know he’s ready for the playoffs.”
On some levels, the move makes sense. Montreal doesn’t absolutely have to win this game, Budaj has played reasonably well this season and Price having a poor start against their potential first round opponent in the final regular-season game might not be all that beneficial for his confidence.
On the Leafs side, meanwhile, coach Randy Carlyle finally opened up a little bit on centre Tyler Bozak, who missed Thursday’s win in Florida and wasn’t at the morning skate on Saturday.
Bozak appeared to take a couple big hits against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, and the rumblings right now around the team are that it’s a minor shoulder injury that won’t keep him out of the playoffs.
“Tyler Bozak is day-to-day with an upper-body injury,” Carlyle said. “It’s been something that developed in the last week.”
Nazem Kadri said he believed he would be back on the first line with Phil Kessel, who he clicked with against the Panthers for two of the Leafs goals in a 4-0 win.
The basics are that Montreal can only finish second or fourth in the East, and Toronto can only finish fifth or sixth.
In order for the Canadiens to clinch the Northeast Division title, they need to stay tied with or pass the Boston Bruins the rest of the way. Because Boston has two games remaining and Montreal just the one, the Habs road to second is a fair bit harder (and very unlikely if they lose in Toronto on Saturday).
The Leafs, meanwhile, are pretty well locked into that fifth spot, with only the Ottawa Senators able to pass them. It would take a Toronto loss in regulation combined with two Sens wins in their final two games for the Leafs to be bumped to sixth, where they would face the Washington Capitals.
Otherwise, Toronto gets whichever of Montreal or Boston doesn’t win the division.
With the Bruins and Sens meeting in a makeup game on Sunday night, it’s likely all of the Eastern Conference playoff matchups aren’t known until after that point.
- The scratches on the Leafs side will likely be Bozak, Jake Gardiner, Ryan O’Byrne, Ryan Hamilton and Frazer McLaren (neck injury). Carlyle had some solid praise for defenceman Mike Kostka, who appears to be back in the top six for at least the next little while.
- Therrien was very tight lipped on his lineup, but he noted that young defenceman Jarred Tinordi will play.