Lightning vs. Canadiens Stanley Cup Final preview

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Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens

Lightning: 4-3 to win Stanley Cup Semifinals against New York Islanders; 4-1 to win Stanley Cup Second Round against Carolina Hurricanes; 4-2 to win Stanley Cup First Round against Florida Panthers; 36-17-3, 75 points in regular season (third in Discover Central Division)

Canadiens: 4-2 to win Stanley Cup Semifinals against Vegas Golden Knights; 4-0 to win Stanley Cup Second Round against Winnipeg Jets; 4-3 to win Stanley Cup First Round against Toronto Maple Leafs; 24-21-11, 59 points in regular season (fourth in Scotia North Division)

Game 1: Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS)

The Tampa Bay Lightning will try to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, and the Montreal Canadiens will seek to add to their record by winning their 24th championship since entering the NHL in 1917, when they meet in the Stanley Cup Final, beginning Monday.

After winning its second championship last season, Tampa Bay can become the ninth team to win the Stanley Cup in consecutive seasons, and the first since the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017. The Lightning needed a 1-0 win in Game 7 against New York in the Stanley Cup Semifinals to return to the Cup Final.

“There’s a reason why, and they’re back in the Final this year,” Canadiens coach Dominque Ducharme said Saturday. “So it’s going to be a tough challenge for us, that’s for sure. But any Final is supposed to be that way and we’ll be ready to go in Game 1.”

Video: NHL Tonight previews the Stanley Cup Final

Montreal began the playoffs as heavy underdogs against the Maple Leafs and were on the brink of elimination in Game 5. But the Canadiens are 11-2 since, including a 3-2 overtime win to eliminate the Golden Knights.

Ducharme tested positive for COVID-19 and missed the final four games of the semifinals. He said he expects to return for Game 3. Assistant Luke Richardson has coached in his absence, going 3-1 to help Montreal advance to the Cup Final for the first time since 1993, when they won their most recent championship.

“For us, they’re a roadblock,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “And we’re a determined group to go in there and see another team we haven’t played. But it’s clear by watching them on TV how good they are and how they’ve got their mojo going and led by their goaltender (Carey Price). It’s going to be a fun series.” 

The Canadiens and Lightning did not play each other this season because of temporary divisional realignment due to COVID-19. It will be the fourth playoff series between them; Tampa Bay has won two, including the most recent, in six games in the 2015 Eastern Conference Second Round.

 
Game breakers

Lightning: Brayden Point scored a goal in nine straight playoff games before his streak ended in Game 7 against the Islanders, leaving the center one short of the NHL record set by Reggie Leach with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1976. Point leads the playoffs with 14 goals in 18 games, matching his leading total in 23 games from last postseason.

Video: Brayden Point’s best plays of playoffs

Canadiens: Cole Caufield was a healthy scratch for the first two games of the playoffs, but the rookie forward has gradually established himself as one of their most dynamic offensive threats with his skating and shot. The 20-year-old led Montreal with four goals and tied linemate Nick Suzuki for its lead with five points against Vegas.

Video: Cole Caufield’s best plays of playoffs

 
Goaltending 

Lightning: Andrei Vasilevskiy is 12-6 with a 1.99 goals-against average, .936 save percentage and four shutouts and has allowed two goals or fewer in 11 of his 18 starts. Voted a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the top goalie in the NHL for a fourth straight season (he won it in 2018-19), Vasilevskiy was 31-10-1 with a 2.21 GAA, .925 save percentage and five shutouts during the regular season.

Video: Andrei Vasilevskiy’s best saves of playoffs

Canadiens: Carey Price, who won the Vezina in 2014-15 and was a finalist in 2016-17, has nearly matched Vasilevskiy in the playoffs, going 12-5 with a 2.02 GAA, .934 save percentage and one shutout in 17 games. Over the past two postseasons, he is 17-10 with a 1.93 GAA, .934 save percentage and three shutouts. 

Video: Carey Price’s best saves of playoffs

 
Numbers to know

Lightning: Nikita Kucherov leads the playoffs with 27 points (five goals, 22 assists) in 18 games, including 17 on the power play. The Lightning are 20-for-53 (37.7 percent) with the man-advantage in the postseason. Tampa Bay is 14-0 following a loss in the postseason since being swept in the 2019 Eastern Conference First Round by the Columbus Blue Jackets, the longest run in NHL history.

Canadiens: They are 11-0 in the playoffs when scoring at least two goals. Montreal hasn’t allowed a power-play goal in an NHL-record 13 straight playoff games, killing 30 penalties over that span. 

 
X-factors

Lightning: Anthony Cirelli is often overshadowed by bigger-name forwards Point, Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, but the second-line center has a knack for coming through in big moments. Cirelli has scored 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 18 playoff games, including his assist on Yanni Gourde‘s game-winning, shorthanded goal in Game 7 against New York. 

Canadiens: Corey Perry, who won the Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, has been a valuable veteran presence throughout the playoffs, scoring nine points (three goals, six assists) in 17 games. Perry scored three goals for the Dallas Stars in the Cup Final against Tampa Bay last season, including the overtime winner in Game 5. His five playoff overtime goals are tied for third in NHL history behind Maurice Richard (six) and Joe Sakic (eight).

 
They said it

“It’s going to be a huge challenge for us. And that’s where we go back to all the times that we’ve been in this situation. This core now. … there’s guys that this is their third final (last season; 2015, lost to Chicago Blackhawks), so we just go back on past experiences and go from there.” — Lightning forward Steven Stamkos

“We’re hoping that the next seven games we just leave it all on the ice and at the end of the series trust that when we do the things that we’ve talked about we can be proud of the effort and hopefully get the chance to be holding that Cup at the end of the entire thing.” — Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher

 
Will win if …

Lightning: They continue to play with the patience and defensive commitment they had against the Islanders. The Canadiens play a similar structure defensively to the Islanders, and Price is at the top of his game, so the Lightning should expect another tight-checking series with several one-goal games.

Video: Best of Tampa Bay’s run to Stanley Cup Final

Canadiens: Price matches Vasilevskiy’s play, the penalty kill stays hot, and they continue to get scoring throughout their lineup. Eleven players have scored at least two goals for Montreal.

Video: Best of Montreal’s run to Stanley Cup Final

 
How they look 

Lightning projected lineup

Ondrej Palat — Brayden Point — Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn — Anthony Cirelli — Steven Stamkos

Barclay Goodrow — Yanni Gourde — Blake Coleman

Ross ColtonTyler JohnsonPat Maroon

Victor HedmanJan Rutta

Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak

Mikhail SergachevDavid Savard

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Curtis McElhinney

Scratched: Alex Barre-Boulet, Mathieu Joseph, Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh, Gemel Smith, Mitchell Stephens, Daniel Walcott, Fredrik Claesson, Cal Foote, Ben Thomas, Christopher Gibson, Spencer Martin

Injured: None

 

Canadiens projected lineup

Artturi LehkonenPhillip Danault — Brendan Gallagher

Tyler Toffoli — Nick Suzuki — Cole Caufield

Paul ByronJesperi KotkaniemiJosh Anderson

Joel ArmiaEric Staal — Corey Perry

Ben ChiarotShea Weber

Joel EdmundsonJeff Petry

Jon MerrillErik Gustafsson

Carey Price

Jake Allen

Scratched: Brett Kulak, Alexander Romanov, Tomas Tatar, Michael Frolik, Alex Belzile, Xavier Ouellet, Cayden Primeau, Cale Fleury, Charlie Lindgren, Lukas Vejdemo, Laurent Dauphin, Jesse Ylonen, Otto Leskinen, Michael McNiven

Injured: Jake Evans (concussion)

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