2020-21 NHL Stanley Cup Finals Preview – Lightning vs Canadiens
This is where I eat some humble pie. Hats off to the Montreal Canadiens on finally beating a good team. I won’t make excuses for the Vegas Golden Knights because they should have beaten them. But it’s important to note how one little thing can snowball because that’s the Golden Knights franchise in a nutshell.
If it weren’t for the Pittsburgh Penguins wanting to move on from Marc-Andre Fleury without trading him and the Las Vegas shooting, this Golden Knights team wouldn’t have made three of the last four conference finals. I don’t care how good the team they drafted was. It wouldn’t have happened. If the Golden Knights hadn’t been screwed in Game 7 against the San Jose Sharks, the NHL admitted they made a mistake a couple of years ago. They would have made four straight conference final appearances. Who knows, maybe they would have beaten the St. Louis Blues.
What’s the point of this? Well, two things happened in this series. First, the Canadiens had the good fortune of having another top-line center become injured for the third straight time. How often does that happen? Had Chandler Stephenson not missed three games, it might have been different. The second is Fleury’s mindbogglingly bad turnover in Game 3. Games are never lost or won on one play. However, if they were, this would be a great candidate. The Golden Knights should have won Game 3. You can argue they stole Game 4. That’s true. The Canadiens should have won, but there wasn’t a play that was a significant turning point. Let’s say everything stays the same BUT Fleury’s mistake. The Golden Knights are up 3-1, a spot they usually are in. Traditionally, they always lose Games 5 and 6, they did against the Minnesota Wild, and they did against the Canadiens, and then they win in Game 7. They’ve never lost a Game 7 as a franchise, except when they were screwed, and their coach has never lost a Game 7 coaching three different teams. Do you think the Canadiens are winning Game 7? I don’t think so.
But what happened, happened, and the Golden Knights would be the first to tell you they don’t want excuses. The Canadiens magical ride continues, and it’s an odd one.
Generally, the team that wins the Stanley Cup dominates the top +/- spots in the playoffs. That wasn’t the case this postseason. The Islanders had two players in the top five, but they’re out. The Golden Knights had five players in the top ten, but they’re out. The Lightning have only one in the top five and three in the top ten. Ten through twelve are tied, but I’ll give it to them. Where are the Canadiens’ players, you may wonder? The first one doesn’t appear until 21. The next one is 34. That’s really bad, historically bad. The last time we had anything resembling that was in 2006-07 when the Ottawa Senators had one player at 13 and then a bunch starting at 26. Although 19 to 28 were all tied. The Senators lost in five games to the Anaheim Ducks, and the Canadiens are even worse. Let that sink in. We should have gotten Islanders vs Golden Knights.
3 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 4 Montreal Canadiens
Season Series: None
Playoff Series History: 2-1 Lightning
What We Learned: The Lightning advanced to their second straight Stanley Cup Final by beating the Islanders in their typical one-game blowout but overall close series. The Canadiens continue to defy expectations with their smothering defense.
Stars to Watch: Brayden Point had his nine-game goal and point streak snapped, but he’s still amazing and the second leading playoff scorer. Number one is, you guessed it, Nikita Kucherov. I guess he’s mostly healthy now. Alex Killorn, Steven Stamkos, and Victor Hedman round out the top five playoff scorers. Yup, the top five are all Lightning players. Cole Caufield is Mr. Excitement. Hard to imagine he was a healthy scratch during the first two games of these playoffs. Especially with all the overtime game-winners, he had at the end of the regular season. He’s third on the team in playoff scoring. Tyler Toffoli, Nick Suzuki, Eric Staal, and Joel Armia round out the Canadiens’ top five. That’s right, Eric Staal. Staal and Corey Perry are getting it done in the playoffs in 2021.
Goalie Problem: A match-up of arguably the two best goalies in these playoffs. Andrei Vasilevskiy and Carey Price. Price made some key saves to help beat the Golden Knights.
X-Factor: If Brayden Point becomes injured at any point in this series, it’s rigged for the Canadiens. On a more serious note, that Canadiens defense is smothering and big. The top four, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Ben Chiarot, and Joel Edmundson, are all 6′ 3″ or 6′ 4″. This series will hinge on whether the Lightning can use their speed and skill to get around them.
Fun Fact: The Canadiens have killed off 30 penalties in a row, bringing their penalty kill to 93.5%. Since they’ve scored four short-handed goals, their net penalty kill is 102.2%. So it’s to their advantage to be short-handed. The Lightning’s power play is 37.7%. They’ve scored two of their own short-handed goals, including the lone game-winning goal in Game 7 against the Islanders.
Prediction: Last year, I knew the Lightning were winning regardless of who they played. It could have been the 84-85 Edmonton Oilers. It didn’t matter. Two years ago, I had a feeling the Blues were going to win despite my objections. I have no idea who will win this. Logic would say the Lightning, but these playoffs have been very illogical. I mean, we have a Stanley Cup Finals featuring two teams who are normally in the same division. The Lightning are a well-oiled machine. But I said the same thing about the Golden Knights, and the Canadiens beat them. The Canadiens play very smothering defense, but the Islanders have done that the last few seasons as well as anybody, and the Lightning scored eight goals against them in a game. This series will go long. Turnovers are always key, but they’ve been especially critical these playoffs. Whoever turns it over in their zone will shoot themselves in the foot. If everyone stays healthy, I give a slight and not very confident advantage to the Lightning in six or seven.