Canadiens–Maple Leafs rivalry
|First meeting||December 26, 1917
|Latest meeting||February 27, 2016
|All-time series||393–314–88–8 (MTL)|
|Regular season series||351–285–88–8 (MTL)|
|Postseason results||42–29 (MTL)|
|Current win streak||MTL W10|
1944 Semi-finals: Canadiens, 4-1
The Canadiens–Maple Leafs rivalry is an National Hockey League (NHL) rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. Dating back to 1917, it is the oldest rivalry in the NHL. From 1944–78, the two teams met each other in the playoffs 15 times and faced each other in five Stanley Cup Finals. While the on-ice competition is fierce, the Leafs-Habs rivalry is symbolic of the rivalry between Canada's two largest cities: Toronto and Montreal. Both teams have fans across Canada (and beyond); allegiances are no longer as strongly determined by language spoken as in their early histories.
From the time of the French loss of Quebec City at the Plains of Abraham in 1759, the chief tension in what eventually became Canada has been between English- and French-speaking Canadians. The English Canadians were for the most part of British ethnic stock and Protestant, and were associated with the British Crown. By contrast, the French Canadians (from Quebec and other provinces), were not only of French descent, but were also heavily Roman Catholic in religion and as a group did not possess strong allegiances with the British Crown.
When the NHL was created in 1917, these differences continued to play themselves out in the rivalry between the Maple Leafs and Canadiens. The Maple Leafs' fanbase consisted mainly of English-speaking Canadians of British descent; in fact, the team's logo from 1927 onward was in essence a stylized version of the Canadian Army's Cap Badge Insignia during World War I. This held particular significance for longtime Leafs owner Conn Smythe, who had served as an artillery officer during the Great War. As late as the 1970s, a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, was hung in the Leafs' home arena, Maple Leaf Gardens, and "God Save the Queen" was sung as an anthem before the game (the former practice was famously discontinued by the team's owner at the time, Harold Ballard, who asked, "The Queen doesn't pay anything to get in, does she?"). The Canadiens, meanwhile, captured the imaginations of French-speaking fans, mainly concentrated in the province of Quebec (and to a slightly lesser degree, English-speaking Catholic and Jewish fans in Montreal, as well as English-speaking Catholic fans in eastern Ontario and the Maritimes). In contrast to the anthem practice in Toronto at the time, the Canadiens pioneered the use of the current Canadian national anthem, "O Canada," at the Montreal Forum with bilingual lyrics.
Ironically, the Canadiens were responsible for the Maple Leafs' entrance to the League. The NHL had been formed when four of the five teams in the National Hockey Association—including the Canadiens—wanted to get rid of Toronto Blueshirts owner Eddie Livingstone. When they discovered the League constitution did not allow them to simply expel the Blueshirts, they simply created a new league, the NHL, and did not invite the Blueshirts to join them, effectively leaving Livingstone in a one-team league. However, Canadiens owner George Kennedy felt it would be unthinkable not to have a team from Toronto in the new league. The NHL also needed a fourth team to balance the schedule after the Quebec Bulldogs suspended operations due to financial problems (and as it turned out, did not take the ice until 1919). At his suggestion, the NHL granted a temporary franchise to the Blueshirts' landlords, the Toronto Arena Company. The Arena Company was granted a permanent franchise for the next season, known as the Toronto Arenas. The Arenas became the Toronto St. Patricks in 1919 and the Maple Leafs in 1927.
The rivalry became especially heated after the Montreal Maroons (a team representing Montreal's Anglophone community) suspended operations (and as it turned out, never returned) in 1938. For the next 32 years, the Habs and Leafs were the only Canadian teams in the league.
1940s to 1960s
While certainly heated during the 1940s and 1950s, the Habs–Leafs rivalry was particularly acute during the 1960s; the two teams reigned exclusively as Stanley Cup champions during the decade, with the exception of 1961, which was won by the Chicago Black Hawks (their last championship until 2010). The rivalry perhaps reached its zenith in the 1967 Stanley Cup Finals during the centennial year of Canadian Confederation. The city of Montreal was hosting Expo 67 that year, and the Canadiens were expected to beat the Leafs quite handily. Still, underdog Toronto upset the Habs to capture their most recent Cup.
After 1967, the rivalry cooled slightly due to NHL expansion and realignment. The fanbases of both teams began to erode somewhat: new franchises in Vancouver (the Canucks), Calgary (the Flames), Edmonton (the Oilers) and Winnipeg (the Jets) captured the allegiances of Canadians in Western Canada, while the Quebec Nordiques competed with the Canadiens for the loyalties of Quebecers from 1979 to 1995.
1980s and 1990s
From 1981 to 1998, Toronto and Montreal were in opposite conferences–the Maple Leafs in the Clarence Campbell/Western Conference and the Canadiens in the Prince of Wales/Eastern Conference. The fortunes of the two teams since 1967 have also seen a marked difference; the Habs have won ten Stanley Cup championships since that year, while the Maple Leafs have yet to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. Toronto came close to reaching the Finals in 1993, where they would have faced the Wales Conference champion Habs in the 100th anniversary year of the Stanley Cup. However, they were narrowly defeated in the Campbell Conference Finals by the Los Angeles Kings. At the 1994 NHL All-Star Game in New York City the following January, however, the then-starting goaltenders of the two teams—Montreal's Patrick Roy and Toronto's Felix Potvin—were the starting goalies, Potvin substituting for future Maple Leafs goaltender Ed Belfour. The Eastern Conference, coached by the Canadiens' Jacques Demers, won the game, 9–8. This rivalry is featured in the children's book The Hockey Sweater, in which the protagonist, a Canadiens fan and presumably author Roch Carrier as a child, is forced to wear a Leafs sweater. The rivalry is also featured in the murals of Toronto's College subway station, in a work by Charles Pachter called Hockey Knights in Canada, in which the Leafs are depicted on the southbound side mural and the Canadiens are depicted on the northbound side mural. The two murals are installed appropriately in opposition, with one facing the other across the subway tracks.
On May 29, 1992, Pat Burns resigned as the Canadiens head coach and was hired as the Maple Leafs head coach that same day, adding more fuel to the fire. Burns coached the Canadiens to the 1989 Stanley Cup Finals, but lost to the Calgary Flames in six games. However, he would win the Stanley Cup as coach of the New Jersey Devils in 2003.
In 1998, the Leafs moved into the Eastern Conference's Northeast Division. This has served to rekindle the rivalry, although the two teams have yet to appear in a playoff series against each other. For the Maple Leafs, this realignment also put them in the same division as the Ottawa Senators, their in-province rivals.
Another realignment in 2013 kept the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, and Senators in the same division, now going by the Atlantic Division name (the old Atlantic Division was renamed the Metropolitan Division).
The Canadiens and Maple Leafs have met in the playoffs 15 times. To date, Montreal has won 8, Toronto 7. Scores of games won by the series winning team are in bold.
|Season||Round||Result||Game 1||Game 2||Game 3||Game 4||Game 5||Game 6||Game 7|
|1917–18||NHL Final*||Toronto 10-7**||3-7||3-4|
|1924–25||NHL Semifinal*||Montreal 5-2**||3-2||2-0|
* Stanley Cup Finals were between the NHL and PCHA champions prior to 1927. ** Total goals series.
- Inline citations
- Cole 2004, p. 52
- Cole 2004, p. 71
- Cole 2004, p. 68
- Cole 2004, p. 127
- Dillman, Lisa (May 30, 1993). "Game 7 Victory Is a Great One Hockey". Los Angeles Times. p. 1.
- Cox, Damien (May 30, 1992). "Habs' Burns to coach Leafs". Toronto Star. p. A1.
- Frei, Terry (June 10, 2003). "Devils in heaven Brodeur's shutout nets NHL title". Denver Post. p. D01.
- Shoalts, David (December 3, 1997). "Leafs get wish to play Habs more". The Globe and Mail. p. S1.