The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs square off Monday night (7 p.m. ET, CNBC) in the first Game 7 between the historic rivals since the 1964 playoffs.
Of course, just a few days ago it seemed unlikely the series would get to this point. The Leafs led the series 3-1 entering Game 5 in Toronto … and then the Habs won in overtime, despite blowing a 3-0 lead in regulation.
And then the Canadiens won Game 6 in overtime in Montreal, in front of fans for the first time since March 2020, after blowing a 2-0 lead in regulation.
So here we are, Game 7 in Toronto with all the pressure firmly on the home side.
The Maple Leafs have not won a playoff series in 17 years and after Saturday night's setback are now 0-7 with a chance to advance in the playoffs since 2004. They have lost winner-take-all games each of the prior three seasons.
The Toronto Maple Leafs host the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 Monday night. (Photo: Dan Hamilton, USA TODAY Sports)
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Toronto captain John Tavares remains out following his scary collision with Corey Perry in Game 1, and two of the Maple Leafs' biggest stars have failed to produce in his absence. Auston Matthews, the NHL's goal-scoring leader in the regular season, has just one goal and three assists in six games. Mitch Marner has four points in six games but no goals – in fact, he's in a 17-game postseason scoring drought.
Is Monday night's contest a legacy-defining game already for the young stars who average over $10 million a year? Can Carey Price and the underdog Canadiens keep the magic going?
Who will win this Game 7? USA TODAY Sports NHL staffers weigh in:
Jimmy Hascup: 2-1 Maple Leafs
The pressure is on the Maple Leafs, who have blown a 3-1 series lead against a team that finished with 18 fewer points this season. But here we are for Toronto: Tavares and defenseman Jake Muzzin are injured, journeyman (and inexperienced) goalie Jack Campbell faces his first Game 7, and leading scorers Matthews and Marner have a combined one goal in this series. Despite all of these factors, the Leafs are too talented and too experienced to let a home Game 7 slip by this time around. Montreal will just be a hiccup on the Leafs’ Stanley Cup quest, but it will take a late goal by Matthews to advance.
Mike Brehm: 3-2 Canadiens
I'll take the opposite view, though I don't feel strongly about it. But here's why the Canadiens can win. Price can hold off the expected Maple Leafs surge in the first period, and then Toronto will start to feel some pressure. The Canadiens' power play finally broke through in Game 6. So did Tyler Toffoli.
Jace Evans: 4-2 Maple Leafs
If not now, when? Yes, Matthews, Marner and William Nylander are still young guys, but they're also all in their fifth full season in the NHL. With these guys all in their prime, the Leafs should be a legitimate title contender. It's surprising they haven't managed to win a series to this point but hey, hockey's funny sometimes. Failing to close out this series after taking a 3-1 lead, though, would be a complete embarrassment and could bring about some major changes. Nylander has been great this series, with seven points in six games. He's also their fourth highest-paid forward: The Leafs simply need more from Matthews and Marner. They're the reason Toronto has such a talent advantage in this series. I think they finally break out in Game 7 to end this first-round misery.
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