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Montreal Canadiens’ Tomas Tatar (90) prepares to shoot on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) during the first period in Winnipeg on March 15, 2021.FRED GREENSLADE/The Canadian Press

They’re billing it as a Battle of the Goaltenders, but it could just as easily be seen as the Duel of the Underdogs.

Two teams not expected to make it through the first round now find themselves in the second round with no strong sense – so very, very unlike Round 1 – of which team is widely expected to move on to the next round.

The Toronto Maple Leafs couldn’t possibly lose, and did in seven games to the comeback heroics of the Montreal Canadiens. The Edmonton Oilers-Winnipeg Jets series would be a sweep, and was – only not for the team everyone expected to win.

In the unlikely scenario of either the Canadiens or the Jets somehow advancing all the way to the Stanley Cup final and raising the hallowed trophy over their heads, that team would join the likes of the New Jersey Devils meeting the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Detroit Red Wings in 1995 – another shortened season! – and sweeping the Red Wings four games to none. Then there’s Leicester City winning the 2015-16 English Premier League title after being ridiculed with pre-season odds of 5,000-1.

Much of Canada will be watching, partly out of national pride in this once-in-a-lifetime all-Canadian division, partly out of curiosity, as Winnipeg and Montreal have never before met in the NHL playoffs. But they will also be watching with amazement – the Jets and Habs being the unlikely teams that shut down Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.

Much is being made of the Maple Leafs’ 54-year Stanley Cup drought, but according to historian Eric Zweig, the longest drought in Stanley Cup history, “belongs to … Winnipeg.” The Winnipeg Victorias defeated the Toronto Wellingtons in the winter of 1902, marking the first time a Toronto team played for the trophy and the last time a Winnipeg team won it.

On Tuesday, the day before the Jets and Canadiens are to meet in Game 1 at Winnipeg’s Bell MTS Place, the NHL announced the finalists for the 2021 Vézina Trophy, awarded annually “to the goaltender adjudged to be the best at his position.” The three up for the award are Marc-André Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights, Philipp Grubauer of the Colorado Avalanche and Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Goaltending was also the main topic of conversation after the Jets practice – yet no one mentioned Fleury or Grubauer or Vasilevskiy.

It was all about Montreal’s Carey Price and Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck, the clear MVPs in their respective teams’ Round 1 victories. Both were simply brilliant, both playing up to and even above the levels that brought Hellebuyck his Vézina win last year and Price his in 2015.

“Two of the best in the game,” Jets captain Blake Wheeler saluted. “Carey Price is probably the top goalie of my generation. He’s shown the ability to steal big games … nothing but respect for what he’s done.

“Obviously, we think very highly of [Hellebuyck] and the accomplishments he’s had in the couple years in the league. … We try to let him see the puck, and feel that if he’s seeing pucks he’s going to stop them all.”

“Both are really good,” forward Nate Thompson added. “I don’t know whether I’d want to compare. The only difference is that [Price] has being doing it a little bit longer. They’re a couple of the best goalers in the world right now.”

“What they’re both really great at is, seemingly, staying calm and handling what’s given to them,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said. “They’re completely focused on the game and in control.

“Two great goalies for sure. It’s the lead story, understandable, because both teams got here the same way.”

The Jets and Canadiens met nine times in this irregular regular season, with the Jets winning six times, with three of the victories coming in overtime.

“What you’ve done in the regular season doesn’t really matter any more,” said defenceman Josh Morrissey, who had an outstanding series against Edmonton. “The regular season is out the window.”

Maurice believes the two Canadian series had many similarities despite the fact that the Jets swept the Oilers in four straight games and the Canadiens came from being down three games to one to win a Game 7.

“They played a very similar game to what we played against Edmonton. We took down the [league’s number] one and two scorers [McDavid and Draisaitl], they took down the four and five scorers [Matthews and Marner],” he said. “They played a real committed, team game and they were really hard to play against.”

Montreal is coming off a long series that finished Monday night. The Jets are coming off a break of more than a week in length. Advantage Montreal? Advantage Winnipeg?

“There would be advantages or disadvantages in either situation,” Maurice mused. “If you got rest, then you’re rested and you’ve got lots of energy to push through a seven-game series if that’s what comes up between Winnipeg and Montreal, we should have good legs for that. And if you’ve come off a seven-game series and you’ve won, you’ve dialled right into your game.”

However, the immediate advantage, he conceded, would have to go to Montreal. “They’re on their A-game right now,” Maurice said. “So they get to stay in that rhythm. So they’ll be really good out of the gate and we’re going to have to make sure that we’re as simple as we possibly can be. We haven’t played in a while so we have to get back into playoff hockey as quick as we possibly can.”