A great deal has changed in the world and in the sport of hockey since the last time the Leafs and les Canadiens played each other in a playoff series. That was back in 1979, when many of us were not even born. Only those of a certain age can remember the excitement when the Leafs and the Canadiens met in the Stanley Cup playoffs. When Toronto and Montreal faced each other back then, it was pure hockey heaven for fans across Canada. However, you have to be more than 60 years old to have any real memory of that great playoff rivalry. The current players on both teams are too young to have a great sense of it.
On Saturday May 20, 2021, the Blue and White and the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge will face off against each other in the first round of the NHL playoffs. It will be the first time these two teams have met in a playoff series in 42 years. Here are some points to ponder about the coming series and the past rivalry between the two teams:
* What was happing in Canada and the world in 1979, the last time the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens played each other in the playoffs. Well, on May 22, 1979, Joe Clark's short lived Progressive Conservative government was voted into office, defeating Pierre Trudeau's Liberals. 42 years later, in 2021, Pierre's son, Justin, is Prime Minister of Canada. In 1979, Jimmy Carter was President of the United States and Canada helped to conceal the identify of a group of American hostages in Iran, saving their lives.
* The Maple Leafs have not defeated Montreal in a playoff game since 1967, the year the Leafs last hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup. In 1967, in the midst of Canada's Centennial celebrations, the Leafs won hockey's holy grail on May 2nd. This year, the playoffs began on May 15 and will last well into the summer. In 1967, the last year of the six-team NHL, the Stanley Cup tournament began on April 6th.and ended with the Leaf victory on May 2nd.
* The 2021 edition of the Montreal Canadiens has only two francophones on its roster.
* The Leafs did not win a single game in their 1979 series against the Canadiens. Montreal was by far the better team and they went on to win the Stanley Cup that year. In fact, Montreal was a powerhouse during the 1970s, garnering six Stanley Cup victories in that decade - 1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979. The Habs won two more championships, in 1986 and 1993. They have not won since then, and their Stanley Cup win in 1993 marks the last time a Canadian-based team has tasted victory. In total Montreal has won 24 Stanley Cups, while the the Leafs have won 13.
In 2021, the Leafs finished atop their division and are heavy favourites to defeat the Habs in the first Round. According to Money.Puck.com, Toronto has a 75 percent chance to win the series, while Montreal has a 25 percent chance. If Montreal wins, it will be a huge upset and a terrible disappointment to Leaf fans everywhere.
In 2021, due to the ongoing pandemic, the stands in Montreal and Toronto will be bereft of fans. Sadly, there will be no large cheering crowds.
* Truthfully, the rivalry between the Leafs and the Canadiens is not what it used to be. Yet, we have been suffering through a nightmare of a pandemic. We need some joy and excitement. We need a diversion. So, what's wrong with pretending that it's 1967 or 1979 again?
Full disclosure: I live in Toronto and I will be cheering for the Leafs; Go Leafs go!