Heart, Hits, Speed, & Neanderthalism
A lot can happen in 60 minutes of hockey stretched over 3 hours and it certainly did in this game and it can go either way over the rest of the series, not just in wins, but also in decorum.

The hyped Game 1 between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens is over, marking the first time these two teams met in the playoffs since 1979 and it ended the same as 42 years ago, with the Canadiens winning. That probably stings for some Leaf fans as their dreams of dominating and sweeping the HABS was crushed. What had to hurt more was losing their captain John Tavares to an unfortunate in-game accident that resulted from the incredible speed and accompanying reaction limitations of the game when after getting hit by Canadiens’ Ben Chiarot and tumbling to the ice, a streaking Corey Perry bumped him in the head with his knee while failing with a jump to avert him. A lot can happen in 60 minutes of hockey stretched over 3 hours and it certainly did in this game and it can go either way over the rest of the series, not just in wins, but also in decorum. 


The HABS did one of the things I said they needed to do in my May 14th blog, HABS vs Leafs: History Always Matters, and that was take hits to the more skilled Leafs team. They outhit them 53-26, with the most effective parts of that of that coming in the first period allowing them to set the tone. There were moments when the HABS stopped playing that game and the Leafs capitalized with their skill, owning the offensive zone and forcing the HABS to rely on Carey Price who was mostly on-point, supported by a couple of lucky bounces. 


There was a lot of luck involved in this game too, good and bad.  The Leafs took three delay of game penalties by having the puck go over the boards, bad luck. Both teams could not score on the powerplay, bad luck (and some bad playing). The Leafs let in a short-handed goal, the only effective special teams play for the HABS, bad luck for the Leafs, good luck for the HABS supported by an amazing effort by Paul Byron to score from his knees. The loss of Leaf’s captain John Tavares, bad luck. Sometimes bad luck is also accompanied by mindlessness, enter stage left Nick Foligno.


When John Tavares was on the ice struggling to gain his ground with a medical team surrounding him, two additional Canadiens medical staff were escorted onto the ice to lend a hand, as players from both teams showed concern. Corey Perry was visibly interested in his friend Tavares as well, skating over to him and giving him a supportive tap as he was taken off on a stretcher moments before Tavares gave a motivating thumbs up. Everyone knew it was an accident and the teams should have returned to what was an incredibly passionate and entertaining game. Unfortunately, Leaf’s Nick Foligno decided he had to honour some phantom code that was more of a cheap, twisted, and unbecoming version of neanderthalism that tarnished the game by starting a fight on the ensuing face-off with Corey Perry who looked puzzled on the intent as he indulged him, to just get it over with. I heard one announcer try to justify Foligno’s perspective as the possibility that he didn’t have the same benefit as the viewing audience to determine that it was indeed an accident, which at face-value is plausible if this was maybe five years ago. Today, the existence of iPads on the bench with instant replay availability and with the several minutes to digest and understand what had happened, makes Foligno’s ignorance card inexcusable. The fight served zero purpose in this scenario.


When play resumed, the Leafs were on their heels, visibly shaken while the HABS continued to deliver hits. That changed for several moments in the second period where the Canadiens seemed overwhelmed with the Leafs skill as they exchanged brief momentum swings and followed that pattern into the third. 


The goalies played a good game with the edge to Carey Price, not because of the win, but because his focus was superior to Campbell who seemed more concerned at times with clearing broken sticks than hockey pucks, although when he was focused, made some beautiful saves. The two areas the Leafs remain vulnerable are their skilled players succumbing to physicality and the goaltending, but both can change at any time, and I anticipate those changes in how the Leafs approach game 2, perhaps with Foligno, Simmonds, and Bogosian trying to emulate some more physicality of their own. Also, good players like Mathews and Marner will eventually find the time and space they need, capitalizing on mistakes that will be made by a Canadiens team who needs to sustain a highly physical game which can equally take its toll on them.


Game 1 was a glimpse into how good or how bad the rest of this series can be based on heart, hits, speed, and neanderthalism. Let’s hope for the good to outshine the bad. 

This is an opinion article by Guido Piraino of The Go On With Guido Podcast https://guidospodcast.buzzsprout.com