Two-game set is big

Montreal Canadiens' forward Alex Kovalev and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Allison are keys to...

Montreal Canadiens' forward Alex Kovalev and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Allison are keys to winning when their respective teams battle for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot in a two-game set starting tonight in Montreal.

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 3:42 PM ET

Since coming within a game of facing the Montreal Canadiens in the 1993 Stanley Cup final, Maple Leafs fans have moaned about what might have been in a big series against the Habs.

A two-game set that could decide eighth place in the East might be considered a poor substitute, but don't expect the ancient rivals to hold back tonight and Saturday.

"There is no better night in hockey than when the Leafs and Canadiens play," ex-Hab Darcy Tucker said as the Leafs packed for the trip. "It's the kind of rivalry that causes arguments between you and your dad or bickering between you and your buddies.

"But we have to keep our focus and not let ourselves get wrapped up in all the people who are in the city and around our hotel, enthralled by this whole thing. We just have to concentrate on winning games. It will take a lot of effort and mental fortitude."

You have to go back to 1969-70 to find the most recent time both the Habs and Leafs failed to qualify for the playoffs. If Montreal sweeps this series, the Leafs would be seven points back with 12 games to play. If the reverse occurs, the Leafs would be up a point and in control, pending the Atlanta Thrashers' finish.

"These games are always important, whether we're fighting for the last (playoff) spot or not," Leafs coach Pat Quinn said. "They all have meaning.

"I know it's going to be a playoff -style game where you have to battle for every inch all the time. Every faceoff, every confrontation is important. The team that eases up a bit here and there competing for the puck is the team that isn't going to win."

Defenceman Luke Richardson, now a Leaf after two years in the playoff wilderness with the Columbus Blue Jackets, predicts Toronto can do major playoff damage if it beats out the Habs and Thrashers to qualify.

"You just have to scratch, claw, do whatever you have to do to get in," Richardson said. "Those are the (type of) teams that are the toughest to play against (in the first round).

"Our power play is doing well, our penalty killing is pretty good despite a couple of bad bounces (on Tuesday) and Telly (goaltender Mikael Tellqvist) is playing well. That's what the playoffs are all about, special teams, goaltending and discipline."


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