It seems only fitting that one of the most highly anticipated matchups comes down to a Game 7. After waiting 40+ years, getting the most games possible out of this series is only right. The momentum of the series has swung back and fourth as the teams split the first six games to make this a best of 1.
The series itself hasn’t played out how anyone would have imagine leading up to it. This has been an unexpected dual of the goaltenders as Campbell vs Price are going the distance like Rocky vs Apollo. Price has unquestionably been the Habs best player and will need to continue this play for the team to have a chance at winning.
Jack Campbell has earned his due and recognition in this series. Nothing has rattled him, he’s been composed and square to the puck far more often that I (speaking as a fan) would like to see. He’s constantly giving his teammates love after the whistle and the team has full confidence in front of him.
Moving away from the crease, other than Willy Nylander, neither teams stars have really stepped up. In Toronto the criticism of Matthews and Marner has reached a boiling point with some Leafs fans. However, a break out for either player is a constant imminent threat and my body always clenches a little tighter when they have the puck.
One player who’s health should be closely monitored is Jake Muzzin. He and Nylander have been Toronto’s best players in my opinion and if he is a no go for Game 7 it will be a massive loss. He is a warrior and it is probably a safe assumption that he will play through the pain. If he does, the Habs need to be relentless with him and make things as uncomfortable as possible for him.
On the Habs side of the ice, the kids are alright. Let me say that again, THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT! The line up argument is in the rear view mirror where it should stay now, but it has been amazing to see what KK and Caufield have brought to the table. Having Jake Evans back in the lineup for Game 6 was a welcome addition. His value to this team continues to be underrated more so because he elevates his game night after night.
Just like the Leafs the Habs have had their slumping stars. Gally, Petry most noticeably have been non factors and while Gally’s injury is known, I am convinced that Petry is playing through one as well. Anderson has played well but needs to start scoring for this team. What better night to break the goose egg than in Game 7 between hockey’s best rivalry.
For the Habs to win tonight they need to continue to play the way they did in Games 5 & 6. They stopped dumping the puck in and rimming it around the boards to no end. They have done a much better job of getting the puck to the slot and created scoring chances in the high danger areas.
The one area they still need to figure out is the Power Play. It’s gotten to the point where personally I would rather see the team ride or die with one unit and have a defensive line ready to go after the two minutes (ideally less) is over. The PP unit I would love to see would be
Caufield Toffoli Weber
Force the Leafs to pick their poison with Weber and Caufield or slide the puck into the bumper to Toffoli who finally put one past Campbell on Saturday night. He loves to score in bunches so here’s to hoping that trend continues.
On the defensive side, the Habs need to stop deflecting pucks in front of Price. This is not a shot at Petry, last game was unlucky but if the D can keep the shooting lanes clear for Price they give themselves significantly better odds of winning.
Finally and probably most importantly, the Habs need to plant a seed of doubt early. Whether that Price making multiple 0 effort glove saves to destroy a shooters confidence, or getting a goal early, the Habs need to rattle some cages. If the Habs can get in the Leafs heads’ early, it will play a massive swing in the momentum of the game.
The narratives around the game are no secret and have been spoken about at nauseum for a couple of days now. There’s no chance that the Leafs players haven’t thought about it, or possibly even let it eat at them for extended periods of time. The combination of Keefe and Tavares will 100% have their boys ready to go as they have for every game this series.
The Leafs have shown an incredible ability to come back no matter the circumstances in any game. The Habs will need to take control of this game on refuse to relinquish it for even a moment because it does not take much for the offense to get rolling and once it picks up momentum it’s as close to an unstoppable force as you can get, after the Avs of course.