Are the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens for real?
Are we ready to permit that they both are able to make the playoffs or this this just a fluke at the beginning of a shortened season?
It’s hard to tell.
We’re a quarter of the way through the season and both teams are in the playoff picture. While they could easily drop out within the next couple of weeks, at this point you cannot ignore them.
First of all, both are big-time hockey markets. This brings them a lot of attention regardless of when they are winning or losing, and there is also a widely held belief that hockey is better when these teams are winning.
Make no mistake, the NHL will be just fine if they don’t make the playoffs—the Atlantic Division could be a four-team race, there is a great Detroit-Chicago-St. Louis three-way rivalry in the Midwest and all three California teams should be in the playoff hunt out West—but if the Canadiens and Maple Leafs are vying for a playoff spot all year an increasing amount of fans will check into their games…even if they are not a fan of either team.
Although both the Air Canada Centre and Bell Centre sell out every night, the energy in both buildings will change if there is hope among the fans that these teams can make a run in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Already in the two Leafs-Habs games—which were both won by Toronto—we’ve seen plenty of wicked snipes, devastating hits and a couple scrums after the whistle, and the people attending the games in Montreal have expressed their disappointment in being shown up on home soil.
Right now, neither team has shown that it can beat the league’s best, however. Montreal beat New Jersey at home in a shootout and Toronto beat the Penguins in Pittsburgh, but that’s about it for both teams.
It’s hard for me to see both teams making the playoffs, but in this crazy lockout-shortened season anything can happen.
And that alone makes the NHL exciting this season.