The Canadiens–Maple Leafs rivalry is a 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 194478, 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.

Cultural background[edit | edit source]

See also: Two Solitudes (Canadian society)

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.

History[edit | edit source]

Early years (1917–1942)[edit | edit source]

A game between the Canadiens and Maple Leafs in March 1938.

The National Hockey League was formed in 1917, by teams formerly belonging to the NHA that had a dispute with Eddie Livingstone, the owner of the Toronto Blueshirts. As the NHA's constitution prevented its disgruntled owners from expelling Livingstone, the owners of the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, and the Quebec Bulldogs formed the NHL, and suspended NHA operations.[1] The resulting dispute between Livingstone, and the other NHA owners, including Canadiens' owner George Kennedy, led to the creation of the present NHL franchise in Toronto. As a result of the Bulldogs' financial instability, in November 1917, the other NHL owners announced the inaugural NHL season would be a four team circuit, including Canadiens, Senators, Wanderers, and a club based in Toronto.[2] A temporary franchise was awarded to the Arena Gardens of Toronto Ltd., which was later made permanent in October 1918.[3]

During the NHL's first 25 seasons, Montreal and Toronto had played in only two playoff series, during the 1918 NHL Championship, and the 1925 NHL Championship.[4] Toronto won the inaugural NHL Championship, outscoring Montreal 10–7. The Canadiens won the second playoff series played between the two clubs, with the Canadiens outscoring the St. Patricks 5–2. Both series consist of two games, where the winner was determined by the total goals scored. The NHL champion advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals. From 1914 to 1926, the Stanley Cup Finals was a championship series between the NHL champion, and the champion of North America's other top-tier professional hockey leagues.

Original Six era (1942–1967)[edit | edit source]

Prior to the Great Depression, the NHL operated as a ten team circuit. However, by 1942, the league retrenched to six teams. The Canadiens and the Maple Leafs were the only remaining NHL franchises in Canada during the Original Six era, with the Maroons suspending operations in 1938. During the 1940s and 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.[5]

The rivalry perhaps reached its zenith in the 1967 Stanley Cup Finals during the centennial year of Canadian Confederation.[6] The city of Montreal was hosting Expo 67 that year, and the Canadiens were expected to beat the Leafs quite handily.[6][7] Still, underdog Toronto upset the Habs to capture their most recent Cup.[6]

Expansion and modern era (1967–present)[edit | edit source]

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.

File:NHL faceoff.jpg

The Canadiens and Maple Leafs take a face-off to begin the 2008–09 season.

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.[8] However, they were narrowly defeated in the Campbell Conference Finals by the Los Angeles Kings.[9] 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.

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.[10] Burns coached the Canadiens to the 1989 Stanley Cup Finals, but lost to the Calgary Flames in six games.[11] However, he would win the Stanley Cup as coach of the New Jersey Devils in 2003.[11]

In 1998, the Leafs moved into the Eastern Conference's Northeast Division.[12] This has served to rekindle the rivalry, although the two teams have yet to appear in a playoff series against each other.[12] For the Maple Leafs, this realignment also put them in the same division as the Ottawa Senators, their in-province rivals.[12]

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).

On October 14, 2017, the Maple Leafs beat the Canadiens 4-3 in overtime, ending a record breaking 14 game losing streak against their rivals dating back over three years to January 18, 2014.[13][14] It was also their first win in Montreal in over four years, stretching back to October 1, 2013.[15]

In popular culture[edit | edit source]

A mural at a subway platform of Toronto Maple Leafs players in blue, and white uniforms, imposed on a dark red background.
The Hockey Knights in Canada are two murals at Toronto's College subway station, the nearest station to Maple Leaf Gardens.

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. In 1980, the story was adapted into an animated short, The Sweater, by the National Film Board of Canada.

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. The Montreal Canadiens is on the northbound side of the station, while another mural of the Maple Leafs stands directly across from it on southbound side of the station. College station is the closest station to Maple Leaf Gardens, the Maple Leafs home arena from 1931 to 1999.

Playoff results[edit | edit source]

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 Final* Montreal 5–2** 3–2 2–0
1943–44 Semi-final Montreal 4–1 3–1 1–5 2–1 4–1 0–11
1944–45 Semi-final Toronto 4–2 1–0 3–2 4–1 3–4 3–10 2–3
1946–47 Final Toronto 4–2 0–6 4–0 2–4 1–2 1–3 1–2
1950–51 Final Toronto 4–1 2–3 3–2 2–1 3–2 2–3
1958–59 Final Montreal 4–1 3–5 1–3 2–3 3–2 3–5
1959–60 Final Montreal 4–0 2–4 1–2 5–2 4–0
1962–63 Semi-final Toronto 4–1 1–3 2–3 2–0 1–3 0–5
1963–64 Semi-final Toronto 4–3 0–2 2–1 3–2 3–5 2–4 0–3 3–1
1964–65 Semi-final Montreal 4–2 2–3 1–3 2–3 2–4 1–3 4–3
1965–66 Semi-final Montreal 4–0 3–4 0–2 5–2 4–1
1966–67 Final Toronto 4–2 2–6 3–0 2–3 6–2 4–1 1–3
1977–78 Semi-final Montreal 4–0 3–5 2–3 6–1 2–0
1978–79 Quarter-final Montreal 4–0 2–5 1–5 4–3 5–4

* Stanley Cup Finals were between the NHL and PCHA champions prior to 1927. ** Total goals series.

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Shea & Wilson 2016, p. 7.
  2. Holzman & Nieforth 2002, p. 159.
  3. Holzman & Nieforth 2002, p. 197.
  4. Toronto Maple Leafs - Canadiens rivalry. Club de hockey Canadien, Inc. (2008). Retrieved on 16 April 2019.
  5. Cole 2004, p. 52
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Cole 2004, p. 71
  7. Cole 2004, p. 68
  8. Cole 2004, p. 127
  9. Dillman, Lisa. "Game 7 Victory Is a Great One Hockey", May 30, 1993, p. 1. 
  10. Cox, Damien. "Habs' Burns to coach Leafs", May 30, 1992, p. A1. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Frei, Terry. "Devils in heaven Brodeur's shutout nets NHL title", June 10, 2003, p. D01. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Shoalts, David. "Leafs get wish to play Habs more", December 3, 1997, p. S1. 
  13. "Matthews pots OT winner as Leafs end 14-game winless run against Habs", CBC, 14 October 2017. Retrieved on 14 October 2017. 
  14. A look back at the last time the Leafs beat the Canadiens.
  15. "Auston Matthews nets OT winner as Toronto Maple Leafs edge Montreal Canadiens 4-3", National Post, 14 October 2017. Retrieved on 14 October 2017. 

References[edit | edit source]

  • Cole, Stephen (2004). The Best of Hockey Night in Canada. Toronto: McArthur & Company. ISBN 1-55278-408-8. 
  • (2002) Deceptions and Doublecross: How the NHL Conquered Hockey. Dundurn Press. ISBN 1-5500-2413-2. 
  • (2016) The Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club: The Official Centennial Publication. McClelland & Stewart. ISBN 0-7710-7929-X. 
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