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Canadiens History: The Epic 2021 Playoff Series Versus Toronto

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Montreal Canadiens Paul Byron

Today marks the third anniversary of one of the most memorable series in recent Montreal Canadiens history.

On May 31, 2021, the Canadiens completed their impressive comeback to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs.

Few, if any analysts gave the Canadiens a chance, with most pundits suggesting the Leafs would make quick work of their opponents. But as we all know, the playoffs are not a math test.

They’re a different type of test.

The NHL playoffs reward effort and team unity.

Simply put, the Leafs were overconfident, which led to a series of exciting plays by various Canadiens skaters, not to mention the excellent play from goaltender Carey Price.

The legendary Canadiens goaltender would go on to play five games the next season, but for all intents and purposes, it was his final kick at the can in the NHL. Consequently, Price easily cruised to a Masterton Trophy win in 2021, as hockey writers with any semblance of integrity understood his impact on the market, the NHL, Indigenous youth, and the millions of people who deal with issues such as substance abuse.

But before Price announced his unofficial retirement, there was one particular play in the Maple Leafs series that will long be remembered, both by Montreal Canadiens fans and a certain Leafs forward named Mitch Marner.

Price found a new level in the playoffs, starting with his mind-blowing save on Marner which allowed the Montreal Canadiens to emerge with a Game One win. The teams were tied at one in the third period prior to the highlight save. A goal for the Leafs would have likely changed the script of the entire series.

Of course, one save isn’t enough to win the series. But it’s important to note that Marner would go on to finish the seven-game series with no goals to his credit.  We can’t confirm he lost all his confidence following the Price save, but we certainly can suggest it led to lower offensive output from one of Toronto’s best players.

Enter Paul Byron

It also allowed Paul Byron to score one of the nicest playoff goals in recent NHL history late in the third period.

Now, before anyone attempts to push back on the idea that Byron’s goal was historically excellent, we should point out that very few players are known for one particular goal.

But if you enter ‘Byron goal’ in any type of search, the first result will confirm just how important it was to the series, as well as the history of both teams.

Not only did he score on a breakaway, but it was also a shorthanded goal which featured Byron beating his coverage, shifting from knee to knee, and then tucking the puck behind an outstretched Jack Campbell who was attempting a poke check.

Oh, and it was the game-winning goal, too.

It’s difficult to quantify Byron’s contributions to the organization. He was a hard worker who made life easier for his coaches and teammates. He was also a very affable player who had to constantly remind everyone of his value on the team.

But if you really want to know exactly what Byron brought to the table, simply take another look at his jaw-dropping goal.

All Or Nothing

Adding to Toronto’s eternal frustration, the Leafs were the subject of a documentary series called ‘All or Nothing.’

It wasn’t the player’s fault they were being followed around by cameras, but deciding to put that type of pressure on a fragile team like the Leafs was clearly a bad decision from the powers that be in Toronto.

It epitomized the franchise in the playoffs to a certain extent.

All flash, no substance.

The optics of the documentary were far from ideal.

But it did mesh with the attitude displayed by the Leafs as they lost three games in a row.

Once the team went up 3-1 in the series, they focused on the next round, underestimating their opponents at a moment when they simply could not afford to take anyone lightly.

It would be one thing for a dominant team to laugh at physical play in the playoffs, but the moment Auston Matthews started to laugh as he was being tossed around by defencemen with an iota of his talent was the death knell for Toronto.

It was an opportunity for him to show a little resolve in a situation that called for a response.

Much like when Brad Marchand punched Daniel Sedin repeatedly in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final with little to no pushback from the Vancouver Canucks, Matthews and Co.’s attempt to laugh off Montreal’s advantage in the battle of attrition was a sign that one team was focused at the prize on hand.

And that team was not the Maple Leafs.

Montreal Canadiens Auston Matthews laughs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Montreal Canadiens Lessons Learned

There are a few worthwhile lessons to be taken from the 2021 playoffs, for both the Leafs and the Canadiens.

Toronto learned that it takes much more than just talent to win the playoffs, though given their lack of results since the 2021 series, the learning is far from over.

Seeing as Toronto referenced the handshake line with the Canadiens when they were eliminated from the 2022 playoffs the following spring, it was also a sign that the team never got over their soul-crushing defeat at the hands of their historical rivals.

The series reminded us that there’s a certain element of luck in hockey that neither team can control. Montreal controlled the series versus both Winnipeg and Las Vegas, but statistically speaking, the Leafs deserved to win in the first round.

However, as I’ve repeated ad nauseam, there’s no such thing as deserves in sports.

There’s one winner and one loser. Full stop.

Everything else is an excuse.

As for the Habs, it was a sign that the Price era was coming to an end. While both Price and Shea Weber played well, they were clearly on their last legs, both literally and figuratively.

After losing two of their most important players to injuries exacerbated in the 2021 playoffs, the team quickly entered a rebuild, which started in earnest when Kent Hughes replaced Marc Bergevin as the team’s general manager.

Since then, Montreal has secured top-five picks in three consecutive drafts, a crucial aspect of any long-term rebuild blueprints. Ironically, the team is probably hoping those picks will eventually blossom to become as talented as Marner or Matthews.

But that’s a topic for another day.

And while the former general manager suggested Montreal Canadiens fans would never tolerate a rebuild, Hughes’ honest approach to the delicate situation has proven that fans will indeed remain patient, as long as there’s a clear plan moving forward.

The 2021 playoffs marked the end of one Canadiens era and the start of another.

The Habs failed to win a Stanley Cup in 2021, but you’d be hard-pressed to find many fans who did not create lifelong memories throughout the entire run, including the all-too-predictable collapse of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round.

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Frank

Ah, I remember it well… the arenas were empty, remember? The Leafs, to their credit, did reach out to acknowledge the heroes of the pandemic and hastily rushed in over five hundred highly educated professional Healthcare workers to witness this historic game seven — and they still choked.

Andreas

Man what a run…they were playing with house money just making the playoffs. I know everyone will say something along these lines, but I remember when Bergeron made those trades to acquire Edmunson and Anderson…”man…on paper they’ve got a solid team”…they caught lightning in a bottle until the end. 🙃