TORONTO -- For old time hockey fans, it could wind up being a classic playoff match for the ages.
A win by the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night, coupled with a loss by the Ottawa Senators to the Boston Bruins, would mean Montreal and Toronto would meet in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Though the Maple Leafs have made every effort to not get too ahead of themselves in terms of discussing their first trip to the postseason since 2004, there is no ignoring the fact the game Saturday has special meaning.
"We’re playing a possible first-round opponent and we want to play well," Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf said. "Whether it’s them or another team, you want to go into the playoffs feeling good about your game and about the way your team is playing, so it’s a big game for our team. We want to play our style and feel good about our game going into the playoffs."
Toronto sits fifth in the Eastern Conference with 57 points after an impressive 4-0 win at the Florida Panthers on Thursday and are four points behind fourth-place Montreal, which made a remarkable turnabout this season under new general manager Marc Bergevin and new coach Michel Therrien.
That said, the Canadiens have hit a bit of a wall and are 4-5-1 in their past 10 games during which goalie Carey Price has had his struggles.
Still, the Maple Leafs will not be taking their opponents lightly.
"They’ve got a really good team and we respect the year they have had and how they have played," Phaneuf said. "It’s going to be a good game tonight. We know they’ll play hard and we respect their skill. They have a bunch of forwards that can really skate. To counter that you have to be physical and you have to have good angles on them. When you are up against a team like that you have to use your strength, which for us is being physical. We like to play a physical style of hockey and that’s no secret to anyone."
Therrien said he heard comments by Maple Leafs players about how they plan to be physical against the Canadiens, but elected not to share his feelings on how his team might respond. He did say starting backup goalie Peter Budaj was part of a plan. A skeptic might suggest playing Budaj has more to do with the fact Montreal could play Toronto in the first round and the prior time the two teams met, two weeks ago, Price was lit up for three goals on four shots before being pulled.
"We have a plan this week to make sure our goalies were going to be well prepared for the playoffs," Therrien said. "Peter had not started a game for 10 days and quite honestly I really like the way Carey Price played this week. He is confident; he is square to the puck and he looks big in net. He is our best player and I know Carey is ready for the playoffs.”
Toronto's lines and defensive pairings from practice Friday:
Joffrey Lupul - Nazem Kadri - Phil Kessel
James van Riemsdyk - Mikhail Grabovski - Clarke MacArthur
Leo Komarov - Jay McClement- Nikolai Kulemin
Frazer McLaren - Joe Colborne - Colton Orr
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Mark Fraser- Cody Franson
John-Michael Liles- Michael Kostka
Scratched: Matt Frattin, Ryan Hamilton, Ryan O’Byrne, Jake Gardiner
Injured: Tyler Bozak (upper body)