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The Wraparound: Tyler Toffoli has been Canadiens’ difference maker

Liam McHugh, Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp examine why despite the Canadiens tying the series on the road, the Golden Knights ultimately are favored to advance to the Final.

The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2021 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

Marc Bergevin spent the past year retooling the Canadiens’ roster. Those changes and additions, mixed with a little bit of luck and circumstance, as well as the rebirth of starting goalie Carey Price, have brought Montreal to within three games of what would be a stunning trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

They enter Game 3 against the Golden Knights Friday night (8 p.m. ET; USA Network) tied 1-1 and looking to take the series lead as it shifts to Montreal.

One of the biggest additions that Bergevin made over the past year was the signing of Tyler Toffoli in free agency.

NHL free agency can sometimes be a bit of a fool’s paradise. Teams get into bidding wars for non-elite players that have already played their best hockey for somebody else. They end up playing top dollar for a player on the downside of their career that may not provide what is expected. It can be great for the player (which is good!), but the team usually ends up with regrets and quickly looks for a way out of it. Especially in a salary cap league where every dollar spent counts so much. Most long-term contracts signed in free agency end in a buyout or trade within a few years signing it.


Toffoli, though, has been one of the big free agency wins so far, and is only signed for three more years at a very team-friendly (just a little north of $4M per season) rate.

He has been the Canadiens’ best offensive player all season, and one of the biggest game-changers in their lineup.

He finished the regular season in the top-10 in goals (28 in 52 games) and already has five (to go with seven assists) in the Canadiens’ first 13 playoff games. That includes two game-winning goals, including a series-clinching goal in overtime against the Jets in the Second Round.

The thing about Toffoli’s offensive surge this season is that there was always the potential for it and a lot of signs that he could excel in the right environment. Go back to his days in Los Angeles and he was consistently one of the league’s best possession drivers and a shot-generating machine. What always seemed to hold him back, at least over the past few years was the fact he was playing in a system that was not geared for offense surrounded by a roster that was short on impact talent.

When he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks late in the 2019-20 season he immediately excelled with 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 17 games (including playoffs).

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 schedule, TV info]

Add in his time with the Canadiens, and he now has 41 goals in exactly 82 games (regular season and playoffs) since leaving the Kings, while also continuing to post strong possession numbers. He is an outstanding all-around player and become an elite goal scorer.

When you look back at the 2020-21 Canadiens they were a team that did a lot of things well, specifically when it came to controlling possession and the pace of the game, that should have built the foundation for a good team. The two things they lacked were consistent goaltending and players that could finish and turn all of that possession into offense. This postseason Price has given them everything they need when it comes to the former. Toffoli has been providing the latter all season and continuing it in the playoffs. It is a big reason they are in the middle of an improbable run.


Game 3: Golden Knights at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (Series tied 1-1) - USA Network / Peacock (livestream)


Game 4: Lightning at Islanders, 8 p.m. ET (TB leads 2-1) - USA Network / Peacock (livestream)