2021 Stanley Cup Final Game 1
How to watch
Start time: 8:00 PM EDT / 5:00 PM PDT
In Canada: CBC, Sportsnet (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the U.S.: NBCSN
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Live
When the Montreal Canadiens won the 24th Stanley Cup in franchise history back in 1993, seven years after their last championship, which itself was seven years after their 1970s dynasty ended, no could have predicted it would be nearly 30 years before the Habs got back to even playing in a Final again. But one of the dimmest periods in the organization followed that title in 1993, with often very little promise of achieving that form.
The organization began to have more success with drafting prospects in recent years, and several beneficial trades have created a core of players to build around. With a mix of respected veterans and highly regarded young forwards on the roster, the club had some success for the first time in a long time landing key free agents in the off-season, and went into this year with what looked like a very strong team.
The 2020-21 season didn’t go quite as expected, with a mid-season lull and then some injuries to major players down the stretch, but the team held on to make the post-season, had those critical pieces get healthy just in time for start of the playoffs, and were able to find the form promised before the season began. They knocked off two clubs to take the division title, then defeated one of the top teams in the league in six games to claim the Clarence Campbell Bowl for the first time in franchise history. Now they find themselves four wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup for a 25th time.
Tale of the Tape
|0-4-0||19-20 season series||4-0-0|
|47.8% (11th)||Corsi-for pct.||48.3% (10th)|
|2.53 (11th)||Goals per game||3.22 (2nd)|
|2.18 (3rd)||Goals against per game||2.06 (2nd)|
|20.9% (7th)||PP%||37.7% (2nd)|
|93.5% (1st)||PK%||83.0% (4th)|
The team standing between them and another chapter in their championship legacy is another powerful one, and the franchise still in possession of the trophy from a season ago. The Tampa Bay Lightning bring most of the winning team from 2020 back to the Final this time around. They have a rare chance in this 31-team, salary-cap era to finish atop the league in consecutive years.
Tampa Bay didn’t march through the opposition by any means to get where they are. It took six games (and some suspect goaltending from the opposition) to get past the Florida Panthers. They did cruise through the second round like Montreal did with a five-game series versus the Carolina Hurricanes, but needed seven games to get past the New York Islanders last round, the last one taken by a 1-0 score.
Andrei Vasilevskiy was great in that game, as he has been for most of these playoffs. He enters the Stanley Cup Final leading all goaltenders with a .936 save percentage and four shutouts. But Carey Price is right behind him with nearly identical numbers. He has allowed 35 goals on 530 shots, while Vasilevskiy has surrendered 36 on 559, with one more game played to get to this point. At least at this position, it’s an even matchup on paper, and a high-quality one.
With that in mind, it all comes down to which team can get the best chances to truly challenge the netminders. Tampa Bay has an enviable amount of skill at the top of the lineup, led by Nikita Kucherov who paces everyone in the playoffs in scoring and Brayden Point who came up one goal short of tying a league record with goals in 10 consecutive playoffs games when he was held off the board in Game 7 versus the Islanders. The top-five point-getters in the post-season are all on the Lightning roster.
As for depth, the two teams are quite similar. They both have 19 players with at least one point. Montreal has 11 players with at least five points, while Tampa Bay has 12. The difference is just how many points the Lightning get from their power play. Kucherov has 17 power-play points (of 27 total), covering Montreal’s top four scorers on the man advantage on his own. While Montreal does enter the series having killed off 30 consecutive penalties to reach a 93.5% efficiency, the priority has to be limiting the chances of the Lightning to play in a man-advantage situation.
The Canadiens tend to do most of their damage at even strength, especially off the rush when their skilled players get a bit of space to show their moves. Whether it’s Nick Suzuki picking out a teammate trailing the play, Corey Perry stickhandling his way through opponents, Cole Caufield finding just enough space to get his shot off, Josh Anderson barrelling right past a defender on his way to the post, or even Phillip Danault and Artturi Lehkonen shocking everyone with a series-clinching one-time goal in overtime, those opportunities will still be there versus a team that’s made its name via shot blocks. The Canadiens have finally gotten away from trying to blast shots from the point through the wall of defence, which is what Tampa Bay prefers to do in its own end. Like they’ve done in all three series so far, forcing the Lightning defence to check the forwards near the net, and gaining a bit of space when they can’t, could be the crack Montreal finds in the armour of the defending champs.