The Montreal Canadiens will play the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final.
“They’re going to get the best team they’ve played against so far, and we’re going to get the best team we’ve played against so far,” Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. “You don’t get to the finals by luck. Every team that gets there deserves it. They’ve had an unbelievable run.
“Obviously they’ve got a very passionate fan base there. It’s going to be a tough, grinding series. I mean, if anything, we can carry over from this series the style of play in terms of the defensive aspect that we’re going to be going up against. An amazing goaltender who’s on his game right now. 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 (2015, 2020), so we just go back on past experiences and go from there.”
The Canadiens defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in overtime in Game 6 on Thursday to win the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Semifinals. They defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the first round and swept the Winnipeg Jets in the second round on the way to the Cup Final for the first time since winning the championship in 1993.
Montreal will open on the road against Tampa Bay, which defeated New York 1-0 in Game 7 of that series Friday.
Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final is Monday.
“It’s not too hard to figure out both teams,” Canadiens coach Luke Richardson said. “One team kind of plays like us (New York), and the other team is a very, very dangerous offensive team (Tampa Bay). You’ve got to be very disciplined, you’ve got to check hard, harder than we even are now.
“We’re not really looking too far ahead, but we know we’re going to play one of those two teams. We really want to start focusing and preparing ourselves and our game and making sure our game is getting better. But at the same time, we will look at video, watch the game tomorrow and hopefully it goes three overtimes, tires them out, whoever it is. That’ll help us there too. We’re going to enjoy tonight, take tomorrow off, and we’ll regroup the next day and see who we got.”
Tyler Toffoli leads the Canadiens with 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 17 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Nick Suzuki has scored 13 points (five goals, eight assists), and Joel Armia and Jesperi Kotkaniemi each has scored five goals. Carey Price is 12-5 and is tied for first in save percentage (.934) and second in goals-against average (2.02).
Richardson has coached Montreal the past four games after coach Dominique Ducharme tested positive for COVID-19. It is unknown when Ducharme would be able to return.
Tampa Bay eliminated the Florida Panthers in six games in the first round and the Carolina Hurricanes in five games in the second round.
Nikita Kucherov leads the playoffs with 27 points (five goals, 22 assists) for the Lightning, and Brayden Point leads with 14 goals. Alex Killorn (eight goals, nine assists) and Stamkos (seven goals, 10 assists) each have scored 17 points, and Victor Hedman has 15 assists with one goal. Andrei Vasilevskiy is 12-6 with a 1.99 GAA and .936 save percentage that are each best in the playoffs.
“In the Final, there’s always two great teams playing against each other,” Vasilevskiy said. “It will be a big challenge for both teams. Carey is obviously a great goalie, one of the best in the NHL. I’ll give it my best effort for sure. Stick with the plan and just keep doing what I’ve done so far.”
Montreal has played Tampa Bay three times in the playoffs, winning once, and lost the most recent series, in six games in the 2015 Eastern Conference Second Round.
The Canadiens (Scotia North Division) did not play the Lightning (Discover Central Division) this season because of temporary divisional realignment due to COVID-19.
Montreal lost each of four games against Tampa Bay last season and was outscored 14-6. Jeff Petry led the Canadiens with three points (two goals, one assist). Price lost each game and had a 3.59 GAA and an .857 save percentage.
The Lightning were led by Hedman, who scored seven points (two goals, five assists). Stamkos scored five points (three goals, two assists) in three games, Kucherov scored five points (two goals, three assists), and Killorn scored three goals. Vasilevskiy was 4-0-0 and allowed six goals on 148 shots (1.50 GAA, .959 save percentage).
Montreal has advanced to the Stanley Cup Final 33 times since the NHL was formed in 1917-18 and has won the Cup 23 times, each the most in League history. The Canadiens also won the Cup in 1916.
Tampa Bay also won the Stanley Cup in 2004 against the Calgary Flames.
“It’s going to be a tough team,” Kucherov said. “They have a [heck] of a team. They made it to the Final for a reason. We respect them, but at the same time we want to worry about ourselves and play the right way all 60 minutes and see what happens.”
NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen and independent correspondent Corey Long contributed to this report