Who played well in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final? Sometimes it’s easy to tell, sometimes it isn’t. NHL.com graded the players in the 5-1 victory by the Tampa Bay Lightning against the Montreal Canadiens at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Monday. Here are the players and trends that stood out the most.
Erik Cernak (Lightning) — The defenseman scored the first Stanley Cup Playoff goal of his career for a 1-0 lead 6:19 into the first period. Cernak had eight assists in 16 games prior to the Final and has scored 16 points (one goal, 15 assists) in 46 career playoff games.
Andrei Vasilevskiy (Lightning) — The goalie ended the Stanley Cup Semifinals with a shutout and nearly began the Final with another one. He made 18 saves, and the only shot that got past him was by Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot, which deflected off two Lightning players.
Yanni Gourde (Lightning) — In the midst of setting a screen in front of Canadiens goalie Carey Price, the forward ended up scoring the game-winning goal when Blake Coleman‘s shot went off his skate. Gourde has scored three goals in his past four games and has scored seven points (six goals, one assist) in 19 playoff games.
Nikita Kucherov (Lightning) — The forward had two goals and an assist, all in the third period, to help secure Game 1. He was credited with the first goal when Chiarot batted the puck past Price at 2:00 for a 3-1 lead. After Brayden Point won a face-off, Kucherov scored his second goal to increase the lead to 4-1 at 11:25. He assisted on Steven Stamkos‘ power-play goal at 18:50.
Shea Weber (Canadiens) — The defenseman had game-highs in ice time (25:20) and shots on goal (five). Four other shot attempts were blocked. Weber, who had six hits, had a great scoring opportunity from the left circle on a 2-on-1 at 9:03 of the second period but Vasilevskiy deflected the puck with his glove.
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Doc Emrick (up) — Emrick retired Oct. 19, 2020 after a 47-year career broadcasting professional hockey, but as the television introduction to Game 1 began, it was Emrick providing the narration. Emrick’s exciting calls during the playoffs are missed, so it was nice to hear him for a few moments again.
Jake Evans‘ health (up) — The Montreal forward returned Monday after missing the past nine games with a concussion sustained in of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Second Round against the Winnipeg Jets on June 2. Evans was hit by Jets forward Mark Scheifele just as he scored an empty-net goal at 19:03 of the third period. He played 11:55 in Game 1, with one shot on goal and three hits.
Canadiens penalty kill (down) — It started off well, with the Canadiens killing the Lightning’s first two power plays, but Stamkos scored with the man-advantage for a 5-1 lead to end a streak of 32 kills in a row over the past 14 games.
Angst (up) — The physical play and emotion were evident from the start. Chiarot had a big hit on Lightning forward Barclay Goodrow at 13:15 of the first, and Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman and Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher got physical in front of the Lightning net. There were a combined 115 hits in the game, with Montreal holding a 58-57 edge.
Ben Chiarot (down) — It was a bittersweet night for Chiarot. He scored the first playoff goal of his NHL career to cut the lead to 2-1 at 17:40 of the second period. But two minutes into the third period he swatted at Kucherov’s shot with his glove, then knocked it past Price with his stick to give Tampa Bay a 3-1 lead.
What we learned
Canadiens need better puck management
There were a few costly moments for Montreal. Forward Cole Caufield‘s turnover in the first period led to Cernak’s goal. Gallagher turned the puck over at his blue line and Gourde gave Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead 39 seconds later. And defenseman Joel Edmundson‘s errant pass early in the third led to Kucherov’s first goal.
Lightning strong in all facets
There weren’t many weak points for the defending Stanley Cup champions. They took advantage of miscues to create offense, Vasilevskiy was his usual reliable self and they saved the best for the third period, when they scored three goals on eight shots and held the Canadiens to five shots on goal. It was a strong, all-around performance for the Lightning in taking a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.