Leafs could crash Habs party

The Toronto Maple Leafs can put a halt on the Montreal Canadiens playoff plans on Saturday. (Dave...

The Toronto Maple Leafs can put a halt on the Montreal Canadiens playoff plans on Saturday. (Dave Abel /QMI AGENCY)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:22 AM ET

MONTREAL - This is the way it was meant to be.

This is the way it should be.

The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, hockey’s most storied rivals, playing a meaningful game at the Bell Centre on the final Saturday of the regular season in front of a national television audience.

Let the fretting begin.

Had the New York Rangers lost to the Philadelphia Flyers Friday night, the Habs would have clinched a playoff spot, much to the relieve of their anxious fan base.

Instead, thanks to the Rangers 4-3 victory at Madison Square Garden, the Canadiens need to gain at least one point against the visiting Leafs on Saturday to control their own fate and ensure a spot in the post-season dance.

For the Leafs, who will miss the playoffs for a franchise-record fifth consecutive time, there would be no sweeter note upon which to finish an otherwise disappointing 2009-10 season than to spoil the Habs party.

“Unfortunately, our season ends (Saturday night),” Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. “I’d like to put some sand in (the Canadiens’) gears, if we have the opportunity.

“We haven’t played well for the last month. I’d like a solid effort and to finish on a good note.”

The Canadiens have been in a funk down the stretch, winning only three of their past 10 games and scoring just 20 goals in that time.

Now here come the Leafs, who have played the Habs tough all season. While the Canadiens are 3-1-1 in head-to-head play against the Leafs this season, every game has been a nailbiter, with two contests going to overtime and another two ending in shootouts.

“We have an opportunity to play the biggest game of the season in front of our fans,” Habs coach Jacques Martin said. “This season we’ve had to handle a lot of adversity, and we always found solutions.”

Former Leaf Hal Gill remembers the game of

April 7, 2007. On that night, Gill’s Leafs defeated the Habs 6-5 at the Air Canada Centre in the final game of the regular season, eliminating Montreal from playoff contention in the process.

“That was a wild game,” said Gill, now a member of the Canadiens. “Hopefully that doesn’t happen again.”

Canadiens fans couldn’t agree more.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca


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