The Tampa Bay Lightning are back in the Stanley Cup Finals for a second consecutive season.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper said before the season began that once you taste champagne from the Stanley Cup, you want to do it again. The Lightning will get that chance Monday night just after 8 PM as game one of the Stanley Cup Finals will commence.
The Lightning will take on a Montreal Canadians team that has gotten hot at just the time.
The Canadiens are the “New York Yankees” of hockey. They have been in the Stanley Cup Final 32 times in their history, winning 23. The Habs will be going for their 24th Stanley Cup Championship and will be trying to win their first cup in 28 years.
Montreal lost five consecutive games to end the season and was the eighth seed in their conference, finishing with a 24-21-11 record for 59 points.
The Canadiens will be significant underdogs in this series as they have been in every series this postseason.
After trailing the Toronto Maple Leafs three games to one, the Canadiens did the improbable beating the highly favored Maple Leafs three in a row to send the Maple Leafs home, winning the series four games to three.
The Habs then took on the second-best team in the division, the Winnipeg Jets. All the Canadiens did was sweep the Jets right out of the playoffs.
Next up was the Vegas Golden Knights, one of the best teams in the conference all year. The Golden Knights beat the favored Colorado Avalanche to advance to play the Canadiens.
All the Canadiens did was beat the favored Golden Knights four games to two for the right to meet the Tampa Bay Lightning and play for the Stanley Cup.
This will be the first Stanley Cup appearance for the Canadiens since 1993, the year the Habs were led by another hot goaltender in Patrick Roy.
The Lightning will be making their second straight Stanley Cup appearance and the fourth overall in franchise history.
The Lightning beat the Florida Panthers in the first round of the playoffs, four games to two. The Bolts then took out the division winners, the Carolina Hurricanes, four games to one.
The New York Islanders gave the Lightning all they could handle in a tough seven-game series, but the Lightning prevailed for the second straight season against the Islanders, winning the series four games to three.
The Canadiens have ridden the hot goaltending of Carey Price to get to the Stanley Cup Finals. Price has a 2.02 Goals against average this postseason, and a .934 save percentage.
The biggest key to the Canadiens beating this heavily favored Lightning team will be the penalty kill.
The Canadiens did not allow a power-play goal in their last 13 chances defended against Vegas, and they will go against one of the best power-play units the league has seen in the playoffs since the 2007-08 season in the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Lightning is 20/53 on the power play this postseason. The quarterback of the Bolts power play is Nikita Kucherov, who has scored 17 of his 27 postseason points on the power play.
The Canadiens have allowed nine power-play goals in 43 chances this postseason, so this will be a matchup worth watching.
The Canadiens have been outscored five on five the last two series, and I don’t see them outscoring the Lightning five on five. The Lightning has too much offensive firepower.
No team has shut down this Lightning team in the postseason completely, and I don’t see that changing this series.
Another key to this series, as it always is, will play of the goalies. The Lightning has the best goaltender in the world in Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Vasilevskiy is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy and leads the NHL with a .936 save percentage in the postseason. Vasilevskiy brings a 1.99 goals-against average to the Stanley Cup finals and is playing better than he did during last year’s playoff run.
Carey Price will need to stay hot and continue playing at the level he has played in the last three series.
It would be disrespectful to the rest of this Montreal team to say that the Canadiens are in the Stanley Cup finals just because of Carey Price. The team has been excellent defensively in front of Price and has been able to keep the opposition scoring chances to a minimum.
For the Lightning, that burning desire to win another Stanley Cup has been the focus all year long in their locker room.
The Captain, Steven Stamkos, talked about that at media day on Sunday Afternoon.
“I think we just used that experience that we had last year in terms of fulfilling your ultimate dream of winning the Stanley Cup and realizing how amazing that feeling is and knowing how hard it was to accomplish that. That was kind of one of the first thoughts for a lot of the guys was when we had the Cup, and we were with the Cup, and spending time with the Cup was. We can’t wait to do this again because it’s so amazing. That’s kind of just been the mindset all season long. We’ve put ourselves in a position to do that now. It’s quite an accomplishment. But it isn’t over yet. We want to go out there and finish the job.”
The Lightning has the better team and is the overwhelming favorite. Their offense is better, They have the best goalie in the world, and they can play any style of game you want to play and will figure out a way to win.
The Bolts can play a physical game if that is what is needed. They can play a tight-checking defensive game. They can also play a wide-open offensive game or rely on the outstanding goaltending of Andrei Vasilevskiy to win games. And they won games playing those different types of games this postseason.
The Cinderella run and feel-good story of the Canadiens will come to an end in this series. It was fun while it lasted.
The Lightning are the defending champions for a reason. They have played like champions this entire postseason.
The clock will strike midnight for Montreal, and the Tampa Bay Lightning will be raising Lord Stanley’s Cup for the second consecutive season.