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NHL - US Sports: All You Need to Know - Toronto Maple Leafs v Montreal Canadiens rivalry

19 June 2022 07:29:42 EST
Mitchell Marner is helping to make Toronto challengers again

Commonly referred to as the fiercest rivalry in hockey, the bad blood between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens can be traced back to the creation of the NHL in 1917 when both franchises entered the league as part of the Original Six.

For the first 25 seasons, the rivalry was a relatively tranquil one with the teams focusing on establishing themselves, and only coming together twice in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Sole focus after Maroons folded

In 1938 though, everything changed as the Montreal Maroons were forced to fold from the NHL, leaving the Canadiens and the Leafs as the only two teams based in Canada.

That natural rivalry was heightened between 1944 and 1967 as the teams competed against each other 11 times in the post-season with the Stanley Cup mainly being won by one or the other.

Montreal held the upper hand between 1956-1960 winning an NHL record five champions in a row before a role-reversal saw the Leafs win three Cups in a row.

Cup competition drives rivalry

The two continued to go toe-to-toe for several years afterwards, in the end sharing a combined 12 of 13 Stanley Cups between 1956 and 1969.

Since, the Canadiens have won ten more Stanley Cups, but the wait continues to go on for the Leafs who have not won a Cup or even reached the Stanley Cup Final since 1967. It is the longest drought of any NHL team and a record continually mocked by Canadien fans.

Off the ice, societal issues during the mid-20th century heightened the original rivalry with the two teams becoming a representation for a variety of cultural dualities in Canadian society; most notably with the Canadiens representing French-speaking Canada and Roman Catholicism, and the Maple Leafs the English-speaking part of the country and Protestantism.

Montreal hold bragging rights

In history, the Canadiens and Maple Leafs have met in 16 Stanley Cup playoff series, including five Stanley Cup Finals. 

Monreal hold the bragging rights with a 9-7 series advantage, winning 46 games compared to the Leafs' 32.

Their most recent meeting came last season, during the 2021 playoffs where the Leafs let slip a 3-1 series lead to lose in a Game 7.

If that wasn't bad enough, Montreal went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final where they were defeated by the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

Meanwhile, the Leafs were left to continually feel inferior, still looking for their first series win since 2004.

The battle for supremacy has continually shifted over the years, not just in the playoffs but in the regular season too.

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Tide turning

From 2014-17 the Canadiens achieved an incredible 14-game winning streak over their arch rivals but more recently with the likes of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner rejuvenating Toronto's franchise, the Leafs enjoyed a seven-game winning run from 2017 to 2019. 

Since the early days of the rivalry and with the mass expansion of the NHL, the ill feeling between the two famous franchises has continually heated and cooled through incident and whether they have found themselves in the same conference, or not. 

Although the rivalry is no longer influenced by its historical associations, it remains symbolic of the relationship between the country's two largest cities, even going as far as rowing about who is the biggest sports brand in Canada in an opinion poll. 

The poll suggested the Canadiens, given their superior record of success on the ice whist the Leafs pointed to over 50 years of continuous sell-outs for home games at their near 62,000 arena. 

Bringing the argument up to the current date, the Leafs and Canadiens each won two games against each other in the recent NHL regular season.

Leafs in the ascendancy

Toronto secured their playoff spot with a 3-2 win over Montreal, rubbing salt in the wound of the Canadiens who finished dead-last in the NHL a short few months after coming so close to winning their 25th Stanley Cup. 

Moving into 2022/23, the two clubs are likely to be less interested in each other, but more on their very different franchise goals. 

After pushing the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions Tampa Bay Lightning to a Game 7 in the first round of this season's playoffs, the ever-developing and vibrant Leafs most certainly sense that their long-awaited opportunity to win is now. 

Little tweaks will likely be made around the core which features the NHL's leading goal-scorer of the past two seasons Matthews.

But overall, despite another first-round defeat, optimism and confidence remain high in a Toronto franchise led by General Manager Kyle Dubas and coach Sheldon Keefe.

Rebuild is on in Monreal

The Canadiens on the other hand are in the state of flux with former General Manager Marc Bergevin being fired in the middle of last season following a decade in charge, to be replaced by Kent Hughes. 

Coach Dominique Ducharme was also replaced, just months after having his interim tag removed by Martin St. Louis, a Hall of Fame player, but with little experience behind an NHL bench. 

The Cup final appearance just a year ago seems a long distant memory for the Canadiens and for them the re-build is most certainly on.

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