TORONTO -- The fans began to sing Ole, Ole, Ole with about four-and-a-half minutes to go in the latest meeting between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Only this wasn't the Bell Centre, this was the Air Canada Centre, home of the Maple Leafs. Toronto fans felt the need to rub it in a bit on Saturday. There haven't been many opportunities like this in the past 46 years.
After all, there is a real sense of pride for Maple Leafs supporters about their team these days in this lockout shortened season. And so there should be after the latest result, a 5-1 victory over the rival Habs, a game that saw all-world goalie Carey Price chased after he surrendered three goals on four shots in less than 10 minutes.
This was regular-season meeting No. 718 between these historic clubs. The turnaround in Toronto and Montreal this season has fans in both cities excited about the playoffs, and the possibility that a Canadiens-Maple Leafs matchup in the first round is possible.
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Canadiens sit in second place in the East, but only two points in front of the Boston Bruins. If the Bruins can somehow get past Montreal and the Maple Leafs can hold onto to the fifth spot, that dream Toronto-Montreal series would become a reality.
You have travel back 34 years to find the last time the Maple Leafs and Canadiens looked across the ice from each other for a playoff series. There were only five players - all with the Habs - who were even born back then.
But considering Canadiens defenceman Francis Bouillon is the oldest and was six months shy of his fourth birthday when the Canadiens swept Toronto in four games of the second round in April 1979, none of these players have recollections of the series.
Montreal forward Jeff Halpern was almost three back then. Tomas Kaberle was 11-months-old. Andrei Markov was five-months-old. Brian Gionta was a whopping four-months-old.
So here's the history lesson. Seldom-used Canadiens rookie Cam Connor scored in double overtime of Game 3 when he lost the puck on a deke, but it still wound up sliding through the legs of Toronto goalie Mike Palmateer, giving the Habs the win.
Afterwards Palmateer explained the reason why he allowed the goal.
"That's one thing I can't do - stop someone who doesn't know what he's doing," he quipped.
Montreal defenceman Larry Robinson was the overtime hero the next night, and thus put an adjournment on playoff series between the long-time rivals.
The Maple Leafs moved to the Western Conference for the 1981-82 season and didn't return to the East until 1998. Since then the Maple Leafs haven't been very good. There were a couple years under head coach Pat Quinn when they managed to advance to the conference finals in 1998-99 and 2001-02. But the Canadiens didn't make the playoffs in the former, and were eliminated by the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round in the latter.
This season, the Canadiens find themselves six points better than the Maple Leafs. Each team has seven games remaining. Toronto has won three of four meetings this season, and they will meet one final time on the last day of the regular season back in Toronto.
If the playoffs were to begin on Sunday, Montreal would match up against the New York Islanders, the Maple Leafs would clash with the Bruins.
We'll see what the next 14 days produce. But if Boston doesn't do its part, there always is the possibility of a Maple Leafs-Canadiens matchup in the second round.
Hey, we can dream, can't we?
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