Toronto Maple Leafs: Scouting potential first-round playoff opponents

Cole Caufield’s overtime goal lifted the Montreal Canadiens to a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night.

In doing so, the Habs presented themselves as a worthy first-round playoff opponent. An up and down game that saw Montreal tie it with less than a minute to go in the third sets up a juicy playoff possibility.

Toronto leads the NHL’s North Division with four games to play. The Edmonton Oilers are next behind them but barring a dramatic shift, the two teams will stay in that order.

Such a scenario is 97 per cent likely after Monday’s games. Nobody else in the North has a chance at the top two seeds. In all likelihood, the Maple Leafs will finish first, but even a second-place finish (let’s not forget who we are dealing with) means a date with one of two Canadian rivals — the Winnipeg Jets or the Canadiens.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Will the team be playing Winnipeg or Montreal in Round 1?

Is there a team the Leafs would prefer to see? They went 6-3-0 against Winnipeg this year, including one win in overtime and another in a shootout. The teams will not meet again in the regular season.

The Buds are 5-2-1 against Montreal so far this season with one of the wins coming in overtime. The hated rivals will square off twice more in Toronto before the playoffs get started — Thursday and Saturday.

Toronto has outscored Montreal 26-21 in their eight matchups thus far, while outpacing the Jets 28-24 in nine games. The Leafs have been the better squad against each adversary but not by a massive margin.

Fans are clamoring for an Original Six matchup between the Leafs and Canadiens but it may be Winnipeg who has been the more bitter rival this season.

What we know now is that when the playoffs begin in a couple of weeks, Toronto will be hosting one of these two teams (yes, there is a lottery ticket shot for Calgary to sneak in). After all of the regular season games, either series is going to be hard-fought and nasty.

Who do you think the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first-round opponent will be? Do they have more of an edge against one or the other? Let us know in the comments below.