Toronto vs Montreal: Round 1, Free Picks, Odds & Predictions

Montreal Canadiens vs Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto vs. Montreal, Division Semifinals, May 20, Scotiabank Arena

Game 3 was everything we expected between these two rivals with the Toronto Maple Leafs earning the slight edge over the Montreal Canadiens on the scoreboard. The two teams were pretty even in almost every major statistic, but Morgan Rielly’s goal late in the second period was the difference in Toronto’s victory. Monday’s loss puts a lot of pressure on the Canadiens to respond and even the series at home Tuesday or be forced to stave off elimination on the road later this week.

Game 4 (Toronto Maple Leafs lead 2-1)

May 25, 7:30 p.m., Bell Centre

It was actually a pretty even game between two teams unwilling to make the big mistake. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens both finished with 29 shots, split the faceoffs 50-50 and both went scoreless on at least three power plays. Montreal was a bit more physical and Toronto blocked a few more shots, but otherwise, it was pretty equal aside from Morgan Rielly breaking the tie in the goals column late in the second period. It should be a confidence booster to Toronto to win this type of grinding game in the NHL playoffs, and gives hope to Montreal that this style can work against the Maple Leafs.

Josh Anderson was among the most active players for the Canadiens in Game 3, throwing a team-high six hits and taking a team-best four shots. The physicality is going to be where Montreal can earn an edge on Toronto because the more the Canadiens can make the game a slogfest, the better their chances are against Toronto. Montreal went 0-7 this season against the Maple Leafs when it allowed three goals or more and won all three meetings in which Toronto scored two goals or fewer until Monday’s 2-1 loss. If the Canadiens deny the time and space to Toronto’s skill players that tends to open the door for the Canadiens to counterattack and convert. The gameplan the Canadiens implemented in Game 3 was good enough for Montreal to win, now it becomes finding ways to convert against Jack Campbell.

Toronto won with two goals or fewer for just the fifth time in 18 tries this season, and one of those triumphs came in a shootout. The Maple Leafs are far more comfortable in a more open game where they can use their skill and speed, and Game 3 certainly was not that type of contest. Toronto’s two best scorers – Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner – combine for 11 of Toronto’s 29 shots but neither was able to get a puck past Carey Price. From a confidence perspective, I think it was important for Toronto to win a low-scoring game against Price because it proves they can defeat an excellent goaltender by playing good defense. There were so many highlights for the Maple Leafs, but the important one might be Montreal did not get a single shot on target during its three power plays. The Stanley Cup playoffs are built on good defense and goaltending and Toronto has both so far in this series.

It seems to be in Montreal’s advantage that Games 3 and 4 are on consecutive nights because it gives them a quick turnaround to try and tie the series. It also benefits the Canadiens because Price is comfortable playing both ends of a back-to-back, and it’s a giant question mark for Campbell. Toronto’s goaltending has been great as Campbell has allowed just four goals in three games, but he’s been asked to start on consecutive nights just once in his NHL career. It will be interesting to see how Campbell reacts from a mental and physical perspective because he’s dealt with two injuries already this season and playing in the playoffs is taxing on both the mind and body. However, I am going against the top sports betting sites in New Jersey and betting on the Canadiens because I like how they have played in this series. Toronto is undoubtedly the better team and deserves to be the favorite in Game 4 at the top hockey betting sites in New Jersey, but Montreal has played really well and that tends to get rewarded. The Canadiens won’t hold the Maple Leafs to two goals or fewer in consecutive games and lose both of them. It’s why I’m betting on Montreal to win on the moneyline at +150 odds, the Canadiens to win in regulation for +250 odds and Toronto to score under 2.5 goals at +170 odds.

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Game 5

May 27, TBD, Scotiabank Arena

 

Game 6

May 29, TBD, Bell Center

 

Game 7

May 31, TBD, Scotiabank Arena

 

Game 1

May 20, 7:30 p.m., Scotiabank Arena

It’s been 17 long years since the Toronto Maple Leafs last won a series in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and that streak is in serious jeopardy to end this year. The Maple Leafs tore through the North Division this year and will benefit from the unique season in avoiding both Boston and Tampa Bay in the first round. Of course, they couldn’t avoid a rivalry series entirely, as they drew the Montreal Canadiens, one of the surprises of last year’s NHL playoffs in the bubble. Toronto did win seven of the 10 matchups this season, and many of those wins were convincing, but that doesn’t mean it will be a cakewalk in the opening round.

The biggest question facing the Canadiens entering the postseason is the health of goaltender Carey Price. The mainstay in Montreal’s net has not always had the best regular-season performance, but he has always found a way to turn it up a gear in the playoffs. His career stats in the playoffs of a .917 save percentage and 2.43 goals against average are skewed by some poor performances early in his career. But Price posted a 1.78 goals against average and .936 save percentage in 10 games last season and had a .933 save percentage and 1.86 goals against average in 2017 when the Rangers bounced Montreal in six games in the first round. If Montreal is able to get performances like that out of Price, then it will take a lot of pressure off an offense led by Tyler Toffoli’s 28 goals and 44 points to keep pace with the Maple Leafs’ high-octane attack. Montreal enters the postseason on poor form, having been outscored 21-11 in those five straight losses to close out the regular season, during which Montreal did lose twice to the Maple Leafs in Toronto.

The good news for Toronto is that it has had Price’s number all year by holding the netminder to a paltry .868 save percentage on 106 shots over four starts this year. In fairness to Price, all of those games came in the first two months of the season, but it’s not like many other teams were able to slow down the Maple Leafs either. They finished sixth in the league with an average of 3.32 goals per game, tallying multiple goals in their final 31 games of the season. Much like their Canadian counterparts in Edmonton, Toronto had two players in the top-five of the NHL in scoring with Auston Matthews, who led the league with 41 goals as part of his 66 points, and Mitch Marner, who actually led the Maple Leafs with 67 points, 47 of which came on assists. That duo along with John Tavares and Morgan Rielly power the Maple Leafs offense in front of a resurgent Jack Campbell between the pipes. Campbell is in his first year as an NHL starter and he’s looked up to the task with 17 wins in 22 starts after missing a large chunk of time due to injury. Campbell posted a .921 save percentage and 2.15 goals against average this season, though his hot start in which he won his first 11 games played a large role in those numbers. In his first 11 starts, Campbell recorded a 1.88 goals against average and .934 save percentage, which dropped to a .906 save percentage and 2.44 goals against average in his second 11 starts.

Everything about this series on paper points to Toronto clearly being the better team, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Montreal shocked Pittsburgh last season in the qualifying series than pushed Philadelphia to the limit in the first round in the bubble. This series isn’t going to be a physical challenge for the Maple Leafs as much as a mental one because for the first time in a long time, they should win the series. They will need to push through the demons of the past failures if they want to come close to accomplishing their dreams this year. So while I do think Toronto is going to win, it won’t be a cakewalk and I fully expect it will take all seven games. The top sports betting sites in New Jersey posted +450 odds on the Maple Leafs to win the series in seven games.

There are so many tantalizing betting options at the top NHL betting sites in New Jersey for this Game 1 because this might be the most wide open series of the first round. Toronto certainly can win more defensive games, but only 12 of their 56 games this season were decided by one goal. I am also a bit skeptical about how Campbell will handle his first career action in the NHL playoffs and the pressure that comes with it, especially with how he played over his final 11 starts. One thing to note about Campbell against the Canadiens is he split four starts against them this season, with two games in which he had a .940 or above save percentage and two in which his save percentage was .875 or below. I think the latter version of Campbell will show up in a nervous Game 1, so I will bet on the Maple Leafs to win the opener at the top hockey betting sites in New Jersey, but I’m also adding the over 7.5 total goals at +310 odds.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS TO WIN

Game 2 (Montreal Canadiens lead 1-0)

May 22, 7 p.m., Scotiabank Arena

The Montreal Canadiens have several characteristics that make them a tricky matchup for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and all of them were on display in Game 1 on Thursday. The Canadiens were by far the most physical team, doubling the number of hits Toronto threw with a 55-27 advantage. They had the better goalie in Carey Price, who made 35 saves on 36 shots, including stopping all seven shots on the power play, to neutralize the Maple Leafs offense. And Montreal plays a plucky game that can muck up the neutral zone for skilled teams. Toronto looked out of sorts after the scary John Tavares hit, and it cost the Maple Leafs a win in Game 1.

Toronto’s offense is among the best in the league with all of the high-end talent on the roster, but the Maple Leafs need to fix their power play first. The goals at even strength will come, but Toronto needs to be more effective when up a man after failing to score on four power-play chances in Game 1. Over the last 10 games in the regular season, Toronto was just 2-of-25 on the power play and now it is 2 for its last 29 when on the man advantage. If Toronto is able to use its power play as a weapon, it will only make the game at 5-on-5 more dangerous for Montreal, which had one of the worst penalty kills in the NHL this season. If the Canadiens have to fear the Maple Leafs power play, there might be more space for Toronto at even strength with Montreal afraid to take a penalty.

I’m not sure the Canadiens need to change anything from their gameplan ahead of Saturday’s Game 2, they just need to execute it as well as they did in Game 1. Montreal needs to be physical and make it difficult for Toronto to use its speed and skill in the neutral zone, making sure the Maple Leafs pay a price for making a play. Obviously, Price needs to continue to be a strong backbone for the team and make Toronto earn every goal it scores in the series. And perhaps most importantly, the Canadiens need to capitalize on their offensive chances when they arise. It would have been better for Montreal if it would have converted on one of the five power plays it earned, but the Canadiens just need to be opportunistic and put the pressure on Toronto. If they do all of those things then Montreal will make these NHL playoffs far more interesting for the fans north of the border.

Anyone betting against Toronto at the top hockey betting sites in New Jersey for Game 2 is a bold person. Not only did the Maple Leafs lose Game 1, but their captain was knocked out for the foreseeable future on a freak accident. There is going to be so much energy and motivation for this team that it wouldn’t surprise me if Toronto played too hard on those first few shifts. Once the Maple Leafs settle into the game, however, I think they be far more aggressive in the attack and put a lot of pressure on the Canadiens defense. I think Price and the Montreal blue line will withstand that first wave of attacks, but the Maple Leafs will eventually wear them down and take care of business. Toronto should win Game 2 by multiple goals, so I’ll bet on the Maple Leafs laying 1.5 goals for +150 odds at the top sports betting sites in New Jersey.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS TO WIN

Game 3 (Series tied 1-1)

May 24, 7 p.m., Bell Centre

The payoff wasn’t immediate, but once the Toronto Maple Leafs scored Saturday in Game 2, there was no slowing down until the final buzzer. The Montreal Canadiens scored the first goal, but the Maple Leafs then turned up the heat to score five straight goals to even the series. Toronto held a 34-23 advantage in shots and converted on two of its six chances on the power play to help boost the offense. The Maple Leafs got their big names going early in the series as well as Auston Matthews, the leading goal scorer in the NHL this season, potted a goal and added two assists while Mitch Marner added a pair of assists and William Nylander had a goal and an assist. Now the series heads to Montreal on Monday with a lot at stake in Game 3.

I’m going to just give the Canadiens a pass for Game 2 because the gravity of the moment was always going to be such an uphill climb for Montreal as the underdog. Honestly, there’s a lot to like about Montreal’s first 10 minutes as it not only withstood the opening surge from Toronto, but even took the lead in the game. Obviously, the Canadiens are going to need to muster more than 23 shots if they want to beat the Maple Leafs, and they certainly can’t hand Toronto six chances on the power play. As poor as Toronto was playing on the man advantage, there is too much talent on that bench for the Maple Leafs to not figure it out during the NHL playoffs. Looking ahead to Monday, the Canadiens need to come up with a solution for Toronto’s top line as the Maple Leafs’ top forwards were buzzing around the net all night and created too many chances for Montreal to survive.

Toronto did a lot of good things defensively against Montreal in Game 2, which bodes well for the remainder of the Stanley Cup playoffs. It wasn’t just holding the Canadiens to 23 shots that stood out, but the 19 blocked shots and 15 takeaways were also vital for Toronto to create offense. In particular, Toronto was able to draw penalties and then actually convert on the power plays. The two goals on the man advantage were the first time since February 20 that Toronto scored multiple power play goals – coincidentally also against the Canadiens. In between, Toronto finished the regular season with just 10 more power play goals on 99 chances then went 0-for-4 in Game 1. The challenge for Game 3 is keeping this momentum going on the road against an opponent that has to feel confident to be returning home with the series tied. Toronto not only needs its best players to continue to produce, but it must also take better advantage of the scoring chances when they are presented because there won’t be as many over the next two games in Montreal.

On paper, the Maple Leafs deserve to be favored by the top sports betting sites in New Jersey as the better team in this series. However, I’m not willing to write off Montreal in Game 3 as the Canadiens return home with the series tied. Montreal might have been desperate if it trailed 2-0 in the series and it might have been perhaps too overconfident if it led 2-0, but I think the 1-1 tie leaves the Canadiens in the Goldilocks zone of confidence. They know they can compete with Toronto and now they have the advantages that come with home ice like the last change to be able to better their matchups. The Maple Leafs lost two of their last three visits to Montreal during the regular season, and I think the Canadiens will again put the clamps on Toronto with its defense and Carey Price in goal. So I’m going to bet on Montreal to win in regulation at +205 odds as well as the Canadiens to win on the moneyline at +130 odds at the top hockey betting sites in New Jersey. I’m also going to add the under 4.5 total goals at +230 odds because Montreal’s best chance at winning is going to be a defensive struggle.

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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

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