Categories
NHL Nick's Net

Marchand nets hat trick in, 5-1, victory over Montréal

Brad Marchand scored a hat trick, while Curtis Lazar had three points (two goals, one assist) and Linus Ullmark made 24 saves in a, 5-1, win for the Boston Bruins over the Montréal Canadiens Wednesday night at TD Garden.

Ullmark (12-5-0, 2.48 goals-against average, .918 save percentage in 17 games played) turned aside 24 out of 25 shots faced in the win for Boston.

Montréal starter, Jake Allen (5-16-2, 3.15 goals-against average, .901 save percentage in 24 games played), made five saves on seven shots against before an injury forced him out of the game in the loss.

Canadiens head coach, Dominique Ducharme, replaced Allen with Sam Montembeault (1-6-2, 3.99 goals-against average, .895 save percentage in 12 games played) 17:11 into the action.

Montembeault made 31 saves on 34 shots for no decision.

The Bruins improved to 20-11-2 (42 points) overall and remain in command of 4th place in the Atlantic Division standings, while the Habs fell to 7-24-4 (18 points) on the season and stuck in 8th place (last) in the Atlantic.

The B’s are now 2-0-0 against the Canadiens this season in their regular season series with a pair of games left to play in Montréal.

Tuukka Rask served as the backup goaltender for Boston on Wednesday after recovering from offseason hip surgery and signing a one-year contract with a cap hit of $1.000 million ($545,000 in actual salary given the time of the signing) on Tuesday.

Rask went 15-5-2 in 24 games last season with a 2.28 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage in that span, as well as two shutouts.

In 560 career National Hockey League games since making his NHL debut in the 2007-08 season, Rask has 306 wins, a career 2.27 goals-against average, a career .921 save percentage and 52 shutouts.

He holds Bruins franchise records in games played by a goalie (560), wins (306), shots against (15,485), saves (14,269), save percentage (.922) and minutes (32,206) and ranks second in goals-against average (2.27, trailing Tiny Thompson’s 1.99 career GAA in a B’s sweater), as well as shutouts (52, trailing Thompson’s 74).

As a result of Rask’s signing, Jeremy Swayman was assigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL) as Swayman is not eligible for the NHL’s taxi squad designation.

Boston Sports Journal‘s Conor Ryan noted in a tweet on Tuesday that Rask “was assigned to Providence 10 times between Sept. 2007 and Feb. 2009 before finally carving out an NHL spot. One of those assignments was two days after a 21-year-old Rask had a 35-save shutout against NYR. It’s part of the process,” in an effort to quell feelings of uneasiness watching Swaymen get sent down among Bruins fans.

B’s General Manager, Don Sweeney, informed reporters on Tuesday that Swayman, while disappointed, understands the organization’s decision and shows the drive to get back to the NHL level if an injury or otherwise should occur and necessitate another call-up.

The Bruins were without the services of Jakub Zboril (right ACL), Nick Foligno (lower body), Connor Clifton (COVID-19 protocol), Derek Forbort (COVID-19 protocol) and Trent Frederic (upper body) on Wednesday night.

Boston head coach, Bruce Cassidy, told reporters ahead of the game against Montréal that Frederic would miss the next two games– at least– while Foligno could return to action next week.

Meanwhile, Jake DeBrusk and Tomáš Nosek returned from the league’s COVID-19 protocol and were re-inserted in the lineup against the Canadiens.

DeBrusk suited up on the third line in his usual spot at left wing with Charlie Coyle at center and Oskar Steen at right wing, while Nosek resumed his regular role as the fourth line center– flanked by Anton Blidh and Lazar on the wings.

On defense, Cassidy left his pairings alone from Monday night’s, 7-3, win in Washington, D.C. despite Boston having called up Tyler Lewington on an emergency basis.

Urho Vaakanainen, John Moore, Troy Grosenick and Steven Fogarty were reassigned to Providence on Tuesday in what was simply a paper transaction for Vaakanainen and Moore (the pair were recalled prior to facing the Canadiens), while Grosenick and Fogarty remained with the P-Bruins on Wednesday.

Boston’s long list of players out of the lineup against Montréal included Frederic (upper body), Foligno (lower body), Forbort (COVID-19 protocol), Lewington (taxi squad), Zboril (right ACL), Clifton (COVID-19 protocol) and Karson Kuhlman (healthy scratch).

Prior to the singing of the anthems, the Bruins held a moment of silence to honor the life of Teddy Balkind, a 16-year-old hockey player from Connecticut that was killed as a result of an injury that he sustained in a game last week.

Midway through the opening frame, Jeff Petry had his helmet knocked off by Blidh and kept on playing as if nothing had happened. Except that’s a penalty these days.

Petry cut a rut to the box for playing without a helmet and presented the Bruins with the night’s first power play at 9:22 of the first period, but Boston couldn’t muster anything on the skater advantage.

Late in the period, Marchand snuck onto the ice in the midst of a line change and stood open on the left side of the net on the doorstep as Nosek sent a shot-pass to Marchand (17) for the redirection behind Allen.

The Bruins led, 1-0, as Nosek (5) and Lazar (6) notched the assists on Marchand’s first goal of the night at 14:43 of the first period.

A mere 15 seconds later, Marchand (18) one-timed the puck out of mid-air through Allen’s five-hole after the rubber biscuit was initially shot by Craig Smith off of a Montréal defender— high and wide before bouncing off the glass over the net to Marchand.

Smith (8) and Patrice Bergeron (16) tallied the assists on Marchand’s second goal of the game and Boston led, 2-0, at 14:58.

Marchand, as a result, became the first Bruin to score a pair of goals in 15 seconds since Milan Lucic notched a pair en route to scoring a hat trick against the Florida Panthers in a, 4-0, win on Nov. 18, 2010, at TD Garden.

Coincidentally, Marchand would later complete a hat trick of his own in Wednesday night’s victory.

After giving up two goals that were 15 seconds apart, Allen spoke with a Canadiens athletic trainer and was taken out of the game.

Late in the period, DeBrusk sent a shot towards the net looking for an intentional deflection off of Lazar’s (4) foot and into the twine.

DeBrusk (5) and Matt Grzelcyk (12) earned the assists as the Bruins took a, 3-0, lead at 19:10 of the first period.

Heading into the first intermission, Boston led, 3-0, on the scoreboard and, 13-6, in shots on goal.

The B’s also led in faceoff win percentage (59-41), while the Canadiens dominated in blocked shots (7-1), takeaways (5-1), giveaways (2-0) and hits (14-12).

Montréal had yet to see any action on the skater advantage, while Boston was 0/1 on the power play heading into the middle frame.

Bergeron slashed Jonathan Drouin to avoid giving up a quick goal in the second period, but was sent to the box at 3:19 anyway– yielding a power play to the Canadiens as a result.

Montréal couldn’t convert on the ensuing skater advantage, but got another chance at 6:41 of the second period when Erik Haula was assessed a hooking minor for yanking on Mike Hoffman with his stick.

The Canadiens were subsequently embarrassed on the ensuing special teams play, however, as Marchand (19) scored a shorthanded goal to complete his hat trick and give Boston a, 4-0, lead at 7:10.

Moore (1) and Bergeron (17) had the assists as Marchand picked out a hat from the ice to give to an equipment manager on the Bruins’ bench for safekeeping until after the game.

For the fifth time in his career, Marchand had scored a hat trick and became just the second Bruin to amass three goals in a game this season as Bergeron had previously done so in a, 5-1, win against the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 4, 2021.

Less than a minute later, Ben Chiarot was sent to the box for roughing at 7:50, but Boston couldn’t capitalize on the resulting power play.

Moments later, Michael Pezzetta (2) received a pass from Brett Kulak and spun around before flinging the puck on Ullmark’s short side– scoring a goal as the Bruins failed to clear the zone and broke down in their own end.

Kulak (7) had the only assist as the Canadiens trailed, 4-1, at 10:46 of the second period.

A minute later, Bergeron went back to the box for roughing at 11:49 as he retaliated for a hit behind his own net that he didn’t like when a Montréal player took down Grzelcyk below the goal line.

Montréal’s power play was cut short as Nick Suzuki was penalized for holding at 13:41, resulting in a little 4-on-4 action for nine seconds before an abbreviated power play for Boston began.

Finally, at 19:10 of the second period, Kulak cut a rut to the sin bin for slashing, but the Bruins wouldn’t convert on the skater advantage even as it bled into the final frame of regulation.

Through 40 minutes of play, the B’s led, 4-1, on the scoreboard and dominated in shots on goal, 28-15, including a, 15-9, advantage in the middle frame alone.

The Habs, meanwhile, led in blocked shots (10-3), takeaways (6-2), giveaways (5-4) and hits (22-17), as Boston controlled faceoff win%, 53-47.

Montréal was 0/3 and the Bruins were 0/4 on the power play heading into the second intermission.

Prior to the start of the third period, the Bruins tweeted that Moore would not return to the night’s action with an upper body injury.

Smith tripped Joel Armia 47 seconds into the third period and yielded 26 seconds of 4-on-4 action before an abbreviated power play for Montréal as a result.

The Canadiens didn’t score on the ensuing skater advantage.

Moments later, Marchand took down Suzuki as the Canadiens forward almost had his stick on the puck resulting in an interference minor for Marchand at 5:48 of the third period.

It wasn’t that much longer before things started to get chippy on the ice between the two rival clubs.

A scrum after a whistle at 6:57 of the third period quickly descended into an exchange of forceful shoves and move as Pezzetta and Carlo received roughing minors while Chris Wideman head-butted Haula– further escalating the situation.

Haula received a minor for roughing, while Wideman was assessed two minutes for roughing as well as an unsportsmanlike conduct infraction.

Both teams skated at 4-on-4 for a little longer before resuming full even strength, resulting in a dominant possession for the Bruins at the other end.

Vaakanainen blasted a shot from the point that deflected off of Lazar’s (5) blade and flew under Montembeault’s blocker to give Boston another four-goal lead at 10:19 of the third period.

Vaakanainen (3) and Blidh (6) tallied the assists on Lazar’s second goal of the game and the Bruins led, 5-1.

Minutes later, Ullmark and Laurent Dauphin exchanged pleasantries leading a quick chop that went uncalled as Ullmark instead received an interference minor and Dauphin was handed an embellishment infraction.

Taylor Hall served Ullmark’s penalty while Dauphin had to answer Haula in an exchange of fisticuffs as the boiling point had been reached at 15:o5 of the third period in just the ninth fighting major this season for the Bruins.

The action simmered down afterwards and remained relatively calm as the final minutes winded down and the final horn sounded.

Boston had won, 5-1, and finished the night leading in shots on goal, 41-25.

Montréal left TD Garden with the advantage in blocked shots (10-4), giveaways (10-5) and hits (29-21), while the Bruins exited their own ice leading in faceoff win% (54-46).

Both teams went 0/5 on the power play on Wednesday as the B’s earned their third three-game win streak of the season.

Boston improved to 13-5-0 (6-3-0 at home) when scoring first, 14-0-0 (6-0-0 at home) when leading after one period and 15-1-0 (5-1-0 at home) when leading after two periods this season.

The Canadiens, meanwhile, fell to 2-20-1 (0-11-1 on the road) when allowing the game’s first goal, 1-13-2 (0-9-2 on the road) when trailing after the first period and 1-20-2 (0-11-2 on the road) when trailing after the second period in 2021-22.

The Bruins (1-0-0) continue their seven-game homestand on Thursday night against the Philadelphia Flyers (7 p.m. ET on ESPN) before hosting the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

The Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets and Anaheim Ducks will also visit Boston before the B’s hit the road on Jan. 26th in Colorado.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Numbers Game

Your Team Will Rise/Fail: 2021-22 Standings Projections

It is time. The 2021-22 season is upon us.

Technically it already started, but we’ll ignore the fact that the Pittsburgh Penguins spoiled the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2021 Stanley Cup champion banner night with a, 6-2, victory on the road before the Vegas Golden Knights held off a Seattle Kraken comeback in a, 4-3, win at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday night.

And then Wednesday’s games happened too.

Let’s hit the “reset” button for a second and pretend the 2021-22 is about to get underway. All 32 National Hockey League teams have a chance at clinching 16 available playoff berths.

Any of the 16 teams that make the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs could etch 52 names from their roster, front office and organization on the Stanley Cup next June.

The usual divisions– Atlantic, Central, Metropolitan and Pacific– have returned as have the Eastern Conference and Western Conference. The regular playoff format is back (three teams per division, two wild cards per conference qualify, plus the Conference Finals round returns in place of the Stanley Cup Semfinals in 2021).

A full 82-game regular season schedule is slated from October through the end of April with a three-week break in February for the 2022 All Star Game in Las Vegas and the 2022 Winter Games taking precedence before a return to NHL action down the stretch with the postseason kicking off in May like last year and the 2022-23 season likely returning to the pre-pandemic timeline (2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs starting in April).

The 2022 NHL Entry Draft will be in Montréal on July 7th and 8th, while free agency begins on July 13th, but between now and then, we’ve got the 2021-22 regular season to enjoy.

Using last season’s team goals for and team goals against, plus some other “magic numbers” as part of an expected points model, we’re able to project what 2021-22 could be for all 32 teams (yes, even the Seattle Kraken, despite this year being their first season)– though you’ll have to pretend there were no transactions made in the offseason.

In other words, don’t think that any of what you’re about to see is set in stone– view it more as a suggestion for a possible outcome.

Also, please remember my degree is in communication, so any math beyond figuring out “goals + assists = season point totals” doesn’t exist.

In a normal year (like from 2017-18 to 2018-19, for example), you just take all the data from the 82-game schedule for each team plug it into a formula in a spreadsheet, then line things up accordingly in each division.

However, just like how the shortened 2019-20 season disrupted the regular process for projecting a 2020-21 standings outlook, going from last season’s stats in a 56-game schedule to projecting a regular 82-game season in 2021-22 necessitated the use of forecasting point pace as part of the formula.

As for Seattle, a simple means of taking the NHL stats from last season for every player on their roster and plugging it in for a 2021-22 result is exactly what I did.

We’re all just making it up as we go along, folks. These are projections. They are not absolutes.

For the sake of keeping it simple, here’s a look at how things could go (but probably not) in each division for the upcoming 2021-22 season.

The overall vibe of the Central Division for 2021-22 is that it’s just more of exactly what you’d expect. The Colorado Avalanche are lightyears ahead of everyone else, while Kirill Kaprizov and the Minnesota Wild continue to be on the rise and everyone else fights for what they can earn.

Meanwhile, the jury is still out on whether or not the Winnipeg Jets can breakthrough as Canada’s team and break the Canadian curse (become the first Canadian club to win the Cup since 1993).

Will Colorado finally break through the Second Round and win the Cup?

Are the Avalanche just the Toronto Maple Leafs but with a little more success? My column:

No, but really, it’s worth asking if the Avs making it back to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2002, is more like Toronto’s struggle to make it out of the First Round for the first time since 2004, or is Colorado’s struggle more like the Washington Capitals pre-2018?

The Caps won three Presidents’ Trophies in 2009-10, 2015-16 and 2016-17, but couldn’t make it past the Second Round– let alone the Pittsburgh Penguins– until they finally did and ended up surging in momentum all the way to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Colorado, on the other hand, has already won the Cup twice (1996 and 2001) and also has three Presidents’ Trophies to their name in 1996-97, 2000-01 and 2020-21, so if recent history has anything to tell us it’s that yet another team with high expectations for at least a few seasons now only to come up short could very well go on to win it all after winning the Presidents’ Trophy the previous year.

Either that or they’ll have to win it in back-to-back seasons like Washington did before they won the Cup in 2018.

Then again, the Tampa Bay Lightning tied the Detroit Red Wings’ record for most wins in the regular season (62), securing the Presidents’ Trophy in the process in 2018-19, then got swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2019 First Round.

The very next year, however, Tampa kicked off back-to-back Cup rings in 2020 and 2021, to be where they are now as the two-time defending champions likely standing in the path as the only other favorites outside of the Avalanche this season.

Anyway, the Avs mostly kept things the same from last season to this season, losing Joonas Donskoi to the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, Brandon Saad to the St. Louis Blues in free agency and making minor swaps among replacement level bottom-six forwards and bottom-pairing defenders.

Oh, then there’s this whole thing about how Philipp Grubauer left for Seattle in free agency too, so Colorado acquired Darcy Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes.

Between Dallas, Nashville and St. Louis, who will realistically make the playoffs?

The Stars are projected to finish with about 94 points, the Predators sit at 92 points and the Blues are around 91 points in this one projection, but don’t let the points alone be your deciding factor.

Given the strength of the Central Division compared to the Pacific Division, you can bet on five teams making out of the Central among Western Conference playoff berths.

As such, the spread is the difference maker between these three teams expected to be in the wild card hunt– it’s going to come down to the wire one way or another.

Dallas bolstered their goaltending depth by signing Braden Holtby, Nashville traded Ryan Ellis to the Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis is… …better than last season on paper?

I mean, the Blues signed Saad, acquired Pavel Buchnevich from the New York Rangers in exchange for Sammy Blais, let Seattle claim Vince Dunn at the expansion draft and let Mike Hoffman walk to the Montréal Canadiens in July.

You could say they took a hit here or there, but those aren’t “nobody names” by any means, however.

If Jordan Binnington and Ville Husso can stabilize things in the crease, then St. Louis has a better situation than the Predators.

The Stars, meanwhile, should benefit from a longer season where more of their core guys– like Tyler Seguin, for example– are healthy. Last season’s COVID-19 outbreak to kick things off in January really killed Dallas’ momentum as a team on the verge of being in the 2021 postseason.

Dallas should get back into the swing of things and St. Louis should be able to stay relevant for at least another year, but how hard the Preds rely on Juuse Saros as their starting goaltender will dictate whether or not they’re able to play spoiler with David Rittich as their backup since Pekka Rinne retired.

Can Arizona avoid the basement?

Anything is possible at this point. Loui Eriksson and Andrew Ladd were scoring goals in the postseason, so a fresh start could be just what both players needed for the last few years at least.

That said, Coyotes General Manager, Bill Armstrong, gave a Masterclass™️ in how to go about rebuilding by selling everything over the summer and taking on “bad” contracts with only one or two years remaining in hopes of playing just well enough to be bad enough without making it look obvious that you’re aiming to win the 2022 NHL Draft Lottery.

The Pacific Division is the new Scotia NHL North Division from last season. In other words, it’s the worst– which is great news for the Seattle Kraken as the league’s schedule allots more division play than any other opponents (though the Kraken will play every other team in the league at least twice).

Seattle’s riding the waves of new-age expansion, while the Vegas Golden Knights lead the charge for the Presidents’ Trophy campaign in 2021-22.

Wait, Seattle in 2nd in the Pacific, really?

Yes, really.

The Kraken have a great front office that goes beyond just Ron Francis as General Manager and have done their due diligence in scouting the best talent available to try to replicate the success of the Vegas Golden Knights’ inaugural season in 2017-18, as well as grow beyond just 2021-22.

That said, Seattle probably isn’t going to make it out of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, even if they have to face the Edmonton Oilers according to this projection.

It’s a best case scenario for the NHL’s newest expansion team to be in the weakest division, but aside from having recent Stanley Cup champions Yanni Gourde, Philipp Grubauer, Jaden Schwartz and Dunn on their roster, the Kraken have a plethora of players that are relatively inexperienced with deep postseason runs.

Head coach, Dave Hakstol, also hasn’t had the consistency of making the playoffs and making it out of the First Round in his NHL coaching days, but as a team that, again, is looking to develop long-term success, these are mere growing pains Francis and Co. are willing to accept as the fan base grows.

Why aren’t the Kings making the cut this year when everyone else says they’ll be the most improved?

The simple answer is that everyone’s overrating Los Angeles when it comes to the “ready now” factor.

Sure, Kings General Manager, Rob Blake, did a good thing by getting Viktor Arvidsson in a trade with Nashville this summer to solidify his top-six forward group and signed Alex Edler to fortify his defense, but Los Angeles’ goaltending leaves something to be desired.

Here’s hoping Jonathan Quick can find a little resurgence at this point in his career, while Cal Petersen continues to come into his own.

If Los Angeles has any injuries– and they already have with Arvidsson likely missing some time due to an injury in the last preseason game– they’re already close enough to the bubble that they’ll only fall further behind.

That said, if the Kings don’t make it back to the postseason hunt in 2022, there’s a good chance they make it in 2023.

Los Angeles is improving, but by how much remains to be seen.

Will winning the Presidents’ Trophy hurt Vegas?

Eh, it’s hard to say.

The Golden Knights have packed in just about every type of heartbreak since their inception in 2017, that fans of other franchises have only experienced over the course of at least 50 years, so if Vegas pulls out the Presidents’ Trophy win in 2021-22, don’t be surprised when the inevitable happens and they win the Cup instead of doing what most other Presidents’ Trophy winners in the salary cap era have done.

Only the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings and Chicago in 2012-13, have been able to win the Presidents’ Trophy and the Stanley Cup since the salary cap was introduced ahead of the 2005-06 season.

Vegas would probably join Detroit and Chicago in doing so just so the Hockey Gods can spite us again.

It’s not easy to be in the Metropolitan Division these days because, well, let’s save that for the three questions below.

Is this the toughest division to project?

Absolutely.

The Carolina Hurricanes decided to just get rid of a few parts and pieces that helped make them good for the last few seasons, so they’re bound to regress even with Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Teuvo Teräväinen and Martin Necas still existing.

The Pittsburgh Penguins since 2009, have always found a way to be near the top of the division standings by the end of the regular season no matter whether or not you believe they’ll inevitably miss the playoffs for the first time since 2006, so anything could happen there.

The New York Islanders have made back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Conference Final, so I’d expect them to be good.

The Washington Capitals are better than the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, at least, but are probably the only team on the bubble if the New Jersey Devils can come out of nowhere and be competitive this season after signing Dougie Hamilton, Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Bernier in the offseason.

Meanwhile, it’s time for a short rebuild in Columbus as the Blue Jackets would be quite pleased with a top draft pick in 2022.

What if Chris Drury never was promoted as General Manager of the Rangers?

They’d still fire David Quinn and hire Gerard Gallant. I don’t think that’s such a bad idea, but they’d definitely reconsider about 90% of the roster decisions made this summer.

There’s no reason why the Rangers have to go down this path and yet, here they are, fumbling at the one-yard line and possibly plunging their franchise back into the Dark Ages of another rebuild. Or is it the same ongoing rebuild?

What about a team to watch like New Jersey, for example?

I’m big on the Devils this season for some strange reason.

Maybe it’s because a part of me deep down misses the trap game of the 1990s and 2000s that led to Stanley Cups for New Jersey in 1995, 2000 and 2003.

Maybe it’s because they signed Hamilton, Tatar, Bernier and acquired Ryan Graves from the Colorado Avalanche as a supporting cast for Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Pavel Zacha, Yegor Sharangovich, Ty Smith and friends.

Seriously, the Devils should be good in the next few seasons, but this year could be the biggest stride forward in terms of their improvement from the basement to their development as a playoff contender.

First, pour one out for Jack Eichel. Now, let’s move on and talk about everyone else.

What does this mean for the Leafs?

Just like how the Stars, Preds and Blues are all right on top of one another in the Central Division standings, the Atlantic Division is stacked from 1st through 4th, so though Toronto leads the way in this projection, I wouldn’t feel too comfortable as a Leafs fan.

The Maple Leafs played in the worst of the four divisions last year in the temporarily realigned divisions in wake of the ongoing pandemic.

No, it’s not just because they played all the other Canadian teams across 56 games, but rather it’s due to the fact that they haven’t been able to matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and even the Boston Bruins since the 2019-20 season.

A lot and not a lot has changed since then.

Tampa is still dominant as ever, Florida has emerged as a team that’s on the rise and Boston is unpredictable in that– much like the Penguins– it could really go either way with the Bruins this season.

So now Toronto has to take on better competition within their own division and square off with teams like the Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, New York Islanders and others that emerge towards the top of the standings outside of the Canadian teams that the Leafs are all too familiar with at this point.

That said, Toronto still has a great chance at winning the Atlantic Division regular season title or finishing 2nd and having home ice advantage in the First Round for the second-straight postseason.

Can anyone other than Toronto, Florida, Tampa or Boston make it out of the Atlantic this year?

No. Let’s be realistic here.

The Montréal Canadiens made it to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final despite being below .500 in the standings because every division produced four playoff berths and intra-divisional play through two rounds.

In 2020, they upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Qualifier despite finishing right at .500.

In any other non-pandemic timeline, the Canadiens would still be looking for their first playoff appearance since they lost to the New York Rangers in six games in the 2017 First Round.

That’s not to say that Nick Suzuki can’t lead the Habs back to glory, but rather that they need to improve all-around in the regular season and peaking in performance in the playoffs.

Though the Ottawa Senators promised unprecedented success from 2021-25, it’s looking like it’ll realistically be anytime between 2024-25 as in the 2024-25 season itself at this point.

Ottawa’s goaltending needs to improve, their defense could use some tweaks and the Sens are banking on their offense getting their feet underneath them and bursting in production in the coming years.

A little more patience won’t hurt them.

The same can be said for the Detroit Red Wings in that Red Wings fans already know– trust in General Manager, Steve Yzerman, is paramount. He’ll work his magic.

It just takes a little time to build a solid foundation and the first floor is almost ready to start going up.

As for the Buffalo Sabres, well…

At least they’ll hopefully give Rick Jeanneret a proper send-off before he retires as their play-by-play announcer for the last 51 years on television.

Hopefully.

Will Tampa win three consecutive Stanley Cup championships?

Probably not.

I’m not ruling it out entirely, but the Lightning have a better chance of winning three Cups in four years than they do three Cups in as many years as things stand currently.

The loss of their entire third line (Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow) from last season to this season is sure to leave a mark on the development and restructuring of their bottom-six forwards.

That said, Tampa’s top-six forwards still exist and, if you haven’t already noticed, they’re very good on their own, but the best teams in the playoffs have four lines that can roll without a doubt and the Bolts might just be off the ball for a year in terms of depth.


Alright, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for your patience. By now the season’s already going on a few days into the 2021-22 calendar, so the two of us (or more if you’re reading this to a group) should probably get back to watching games.

Stay tuned for more forecasts for both standings and assorted teams throughout the season.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Montréal Canadiens 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 24-21-11, 59 points

4th in the Scotia NHL North Division

Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Final by Tampa

Additions: F Jean-Sébastien Dea, F Christian Dvorak (acquired from ARI), F Mike Hoffman, F Cedric Paquette, F Mathieu Perreault, D Louis Belpedio, D Sami Niku, D David Savard, D Chris Wideman, G Sam Montembeault (claimed off waivers from FLA)

Subtractions: F Phillip Danault (signed with LAK), F Charles Hudon (signed with TBL), F Jesperi Kotkaniemi (offer sheet signed with CAR, not matched), F Jake Lucchini (signed with Laval Rocket, AHL), F Corey Perry (signed with TBL), F Tomas Tatar (signed with NJD), F Jordan Weal (KHL), D Cale Fleury (expansion, SEA), D Erik Gustafsson (signed with CHI), D Otto Leskinen (Liiga), D Jon Merrill (signed with MIN), D Gustav Olofsson (signed with SEA), G Vasili Demchenko (KHL), G Charlie Lindgren (signed with STL)

Still Unsigned: F Joseph Blandisi, F Michael Frolik, F Eric Staal

Re-signed: F Joel Armia, F Brandon Baddock, F Alex Belzile, F Laurent Dauphin, F Artturi Lehkonen, F Michael Pezzetta, F Ryan Poehling, F Lukas Vejdemo, G Michael McNiven

Offseason Analysis: After back-to-back miracle runs to the postseason aided by the circumstances of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Montréal Canadiens are expected to fall back to Earth in 2021-22.

The Canadiens were a .500 team that upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, then Montréal was a below .500 team that benefitted from the four teams per division playoff format in 2021.

Any of the 16 teams that make the playoffs can win the Cup and the Canadiens almost bested the 2012 Los Angeles Kings in terms of being a long shot to do so, but the Tampa Bay Lightning had other plans in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

Instead, the Bolts repeated as back-to-back Stanley Cup champions while Montréal was eliminated in five games in a Game 5 that was decided by one goal– the only goal, scored by Ross Colton a little past the midpoint of the second period, as the Lightning emerged victorious with a, 1-0, win on home ice to secure their third Stanley Cup ring in franchise history.

Corey Perry lost to Tampa in back-to-back years and, as such, as taken the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mantra to heart in the offseason, signing a two-year contract worth $1.000 million per season with the Lightning.

Fear not, Habs fans, unlike when Marian Hossa bounced from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Detroit Red Wings before landing in Chicago ahead of the 2009-10 season, Perry’s already won a Cup ring. He’s just in search of his second before the twilight of his career reaches sunset.

Montréal’s cast of characters in Perry, Eric Staal and others that joined the leadership of captain, Shea Weber– whether via free agency ahead of the 2020-21 season or prior to the 2021 trade deadline– has mostly disbanded.

Whether or not Canadiens General Manager, Marc Bergevin, planned on making an appearance in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final or not as the 56-game regular season approached last season, it’s hard to say that he didn’t give the Habs their best roster in recent years.

They replaced Claude Julien with Dominique Ducharme behind the bench after a shaky start and rode the waves of change into a fourth-place finish in the one-off Scotia NHL North Division to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2021 First Round.

They didn’t surrender when they trailed in the series 3-1, as Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi followed the examples of Perry, Staal, Joel Armia, Tyler Toffoli and other veterans that led the charge.

Montréal beat Toronto in seven games. They swept the Winnipeg Jets in the Second Round and upset the Vegas Golden Knights in six games in the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals.

Then David faced Goliath, but Goliath won.

Because of the nature of the salary cap era, Bergevin couldn’t hold onto all of his puzzle pieces.

Perry, Staal, Jordan Weal, Phillip Danault, Charlie Lindgren, Jon Merrill, Tomas Tatar, Kotkaniemi and Erik Gustafsson are all gone for one reason or another, while Mike Hoffman, Cedric Paquette, David Savard, Chris Wideman, Mathieu Perreault, Sami Niku and Sam Montembeault have all been signed to take their place on the depth chart.

The heart of the Canadiens– however recently formed– is changing. The identity of the team last season– forged with the additions of Perry and Staal to the already existent tenures of Danault, Weber, Price and Co. is in transition.

Whereas Suzuki was already leading the charge in Montréal’s new core, this offseason has solidified the inevitable. It may not be a rebuild, but it may be a few more stagnant years in-between before long term success and growth.

It’s crazy to write about how the Habs– a team that made the 2021 Stanley Cup Final– are not going to be as “good” as they were good enough to reach the Final, but it also makes the most sense.

Again, in a normal 82-game season without the pandemic, the Canadiens likely wouldn’t have even made the playoffs in the last two years.

The fact that they have has provided valuable experience for Suzuki, Jake Evans, Ryan Poehling and more, but the veteran turnover from last season to this season is palpable.

The additions of Hoffman, Paquette, Savard, Wideman and Perreault signal a distinct shift in character.

Heart and grit be damned– Montréal is wholly embracing the speed and skill era. Sort of.

Hoffman joined the St. Louis Blues on a one-year deal last season after amassing five consecutive seasons with at least 55 points or more dating back to the 2015-16 season. His play in an Ottawa Senators uniform was consistent, but his dressing room presence earned him a ticket to the San Jose Sharks in a trade before being flipped to the Florida Panthers ahead of the 2018-19 season.

After amassing 70 points in 82 games with the Panthers in his first season in Florida, Hoffman had 59 points in 69 games in the 2019-20 regular season that was cut short by the ongoing pandemic.

Then he had 17-19–36 totals in 52 games with the Blues last season after a slow start.

As a top-nine forward, Hoffman’s one-dimensional game as a sniper isn’t that bad as long as he scores.

Since being traded by the Lightning, Paquette had a little bit of a journey on his way to Montréal. First, in nine games with the Senators last season he had one goal. Then in 38 games with the Carolina Hurricanes, he amassed seven points (three goals, four assists) for a grand total of 4-4–8 totals in 47 games combined between his Sens and Canes tenure.

As a fourth liner, it’s a low-risk, high-reward move for the Habs, but that’s assuming he’ll be in the lineup from night-to-night as the Canadiens have a backlog of bottom-six talent looking to earn a regular role.

Savard might just be the best value signing this summer by Bergevin. The 30-year-old defender was signed to a four-year contract worth $3.500 million per season and had six points (one goal, five assists) from the blue line in 54 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Lightning last season en route to winning his first Stanley Cup ring.

Don’t let his offensive shortfalls fool you, Savard is a quality shutdown defender of the top-four variety.

Seriously, it’s a good signing by the Canadiens.

Wideman hasn’t made an appearance in the NHL since the 2018-19 season, when he played for the Senators until the infamous Uber ride, then was traded to the Edmonton Oilers and finally traded again to the Panthers.

In 181 career NHL games, he’s had 16-29–45 totals from the point and spent 2019-20 in the American Hockey League with the San Diego Gulls after signing with the Anaheim Ducks and missing out on the roster after training camp and spending last season in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia.

While in the KHL, Wideman reinvented his game– compiling 9-32–41 totals in 59 games with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod.

With Niku on the injured reserve to start the season and Weber’s career in doubt, Wideman is a welcome addition to the bottom pairing as Montréal looks to hold things together in their own end with Carey Price out indefinitely (Price entered the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program last Thursday) and Jake Allen as their last resort as the de facto starting goaltender.

Meanwhile, Perreault’s arrival shores up the fourth line and Montembeault should provide an added cushion as a backup option to Allen in the crease.

By now, you’ve read almost 1,300 words on Montréal’s summer and we haven’t even gotten around to talking about the ongoing feud with the Hurricanes as a result of the Kotkaniemi offer sheet, as well as the Christian Dvorak acquisition.

Let’s try to keep this brief, O.K.?

Carolina signing Kotkaniemi wasn’t revenge (allegedly) for Montréal signing Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet, but it was an offer that was too good to refuse (for Kotkaniemi, anyway).

A one-year deal worth about $6.100 million with a $20 signing bonus (symbolism!) means that Kotkaniemi will be due for a decent payday if he’s tendered a qualifying offer next summer.

The Canadiens didn’t have the cap space and even the Hurricanes had to make a move to finagle his salary on the books. The Habs will gladly take Carolina’s 2022 1st round and 2022 3rd round draft picks, despite losing one of their better centers for the future.

It was hard enough to let Danault walk to the Los Angeles Kings in free agency, surely things only got harder for Montréal to find a replacement after Kotkaniemi left too– oh.

After swapping draft picks on the second day of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft in three separate trades, Bergevin made his only trade that resulted in a change to Montréal’s roster this offseason on Sept. 4th.

The Canadiens dealt a conditional 2022 1st round pick and a 2024 2nd round pick to the Arizona Coyotes for Dvorak and with that brought in his 17-14–31 totals in 56 games from last season to their top-six forward group.

Since making his league debut in 2016-17, Dvorak has never reached the 40-point plateau, but with teammates like Toffoli, Hoffman, Jonathan Drouin, Josh Anderson, Caufield and anyone else that might bounced around inside the top two lines on any given night– Dvorak is sure to have a more consistent supporting cast around him than in his Coyotes days.

Offseason Grade: C

It’s not a great look to have mismanaged Kotkaniemi over the years– culminating in the loss of his talent via an offer sheet, but what’s more concerning for the Canadiens is just how much of what made them pernicious in their Cinderella run to the Final last year that they lost.

It wasn’t just one or two minor moves that were made to improve from last season to this season– Bergevin made some sweeping changes, by necessity or otherwise.

The top-six forward group should be fine, but do the Habs have the same level of depth that they had last season? That’s another question entirely.

At the very least, they’re not getting caught up having an overstayed welcome with replacement level talent, yet their window in the Price era may be coming to a close.

Hopefully Price gets the help that he needs most as there’s a lot more to life than just hockey. In the meantime, time marches on as the 34-year-old goaltender is susceptible to the inevitable fallout from a goaltender’s prime.

Montréal may very well win another Cup someday soon, but Price might be in a more limited role as the club’s backup by then, if all things go according to plan with this ideally seamless transition from a team that lucked into postseason runs.

The Habs need to improve in the regular season in a division that’s already tough enough to compete in with Tampa, Toronto, Florida and Boston expected to be in the playoff hunt in the Atlantic Division.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Vegas Golden Knights 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 40-14-2, 82 points

2nd in the Honda NHL West Division

Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Semifinal by Montréal

Additions: F Sven Baertschi, F Evgenii Dadonov (acquired from OTT), F Brett Howden (acquired from NYR), F Nolan Patrick (acquired from NSH, re-signed), G Laurent Brossoit

Subtractions: F Reid Duke (signed with Henderson Silver Knights, AHL), F Cody Glass (traded to NSH), F Tyrell Goulbourne (signed with Belleville Senators, AHL), F Mikael Hakkarainen (acquired from VGK, signed with TPS, Liiga),F Tomas Nosek (signed with BOS), F Danny O’Regan (signed with ANA), F Ryan Reaves (traded to NYR), F Dylan Sikura (signed with COL), D Carl Dahlström (signed with TOR), D Nick DeSimone (traded to NYR), D Nick Holden (traded to OTT), D Jimmy Schuldt (signed with Rochester Americans, AHL), G Oscar Dansk (KHL), G Marc-Andre Fleury (traded to CHI)

Still Unsigned: F Tomas Jurco

Re-signed: F Patrick Brown, F Mattias Janmark, F Gage Quinney, D Dylan Coghlan, D Alec Martinez

Offseason Analysis: Well, at least Vegas didn’t try to sign the market’s best free agent to a long-term deal this summer and instead chose to do some introspection.

Looks like that didn’t last too long (on a technicality, of course).

Sure, the Golden Knights didn’t sign anyone to a massive contract this summer, but they did dump quite a hefty salary in an otherwise inexplicable trade this offseason.

Rather than lose out on recent acquisitions and stay the course with Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner as a goaltending tandem, Golden Knights General Manager, Kelly McCrimmon, did the one thing Vegas’ majority owner, Bill Foley, promised would never be done– McCrimmon traded Fleury.

The move stunned the goaltender and nearly made the Sorel, Québec native retire, but after a quick tour of Chicago, Fleury decided to play out the remainder of his contract as a pending-unrestricted free agent after the 2021-22 season.

With an additional $7.000 million to spend towards the cap ceiling, McCrimmon was able to keep Mattias Janmark and Alec Martinez in Vegas– despite likely angering some locals with the loss of Fleury.

Before we discuss the extensions for Janmark and Martinez, let’s talk goaltending.

Whereas Fleury had a 26-10-0 record in 36 games last season with six shutouts, as well as a 1.98 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage en route to his first Vezina Trophy in his 17-year NHL career, Lehner had a 13-4-2 record with one shutout, a 2.29 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage in 19 games last season.

If you want a starting goaltender to be around 2.00 in goals-against average and about .920 in save percentage, while your backup is pegged around a 2.50 in goals-against average and .910 or so in save percentage, then the dynamic duo did just that last season for the Golden Knights.

For the first time since his time with the New York Islanders in the 2018-19 season, Lehner is back to being a starting netminder. Back then, he went 25-13-5 in 46 games with six shutouts, a 2.13 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage.

Now, he’ll be tasked with handling anywhere from four additional games to about a dozen more (give or take a few), since McCrimmon signed Laurent Brossoit on a two-year deal worth $2.325 million per season as Vegas’ backup.

Last season, the Golden Knights spent about $12 million on goaltenders. This season, they’re spending a little more than Fleury’s cap hit alone– $7.325 million for Lehner and Brossoit, compared to Fleury’s $7.000 million price tag against the cap.

Brossoit hasn’t been able to maintain consistency from year-to-year, but he’s a durable backup coming off of a solid performance with the Winnipeg Jets in 2020-21, amassing a 6-6-0 record in 14 games with a 2.42 goals-against average, one shutout and a .918 save percentage.

Vegas was always going to transition from Fleury to Lehner once Lehner became a part of the equation for the future. Doing so now may look bad in the manner that they did it, but it was always going to be inevitable as long as the Golden Knights were spending close to the salary cap.

Anyway, Janmark and Martinez are staying in town– Janmark on a one-year extension worth $2.000 million and Martinez on a three-year deal with a $5.250 million cap hit.

In 56 games last season, Janmark had 11-13–24 totals between Chicago and Vegas, where he went on to contribute eight points (four goals, four assists) in 16 playoff games as the Golden Knights advanced to the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinal before being eliminated by the Montréal Canadiens in six games.

Martinez, meanwhile, amassed 9-23–32 totals in 53 games in his first full season with the Golden Knights since Vegas acquired him from the Los Angeles Kings ahead of the 2020 trade deadline.

He had twice the points in 2020-21 than he had in 2019-20 in roughly the same number of games and chipped in six points (four goals, two assists) from the blue line in 19 playoff games in 2021 for Vegas.

At 34-years-old, signing Martinez until he’s nearly 37 is both a risk and an assurance that he pretty much won’t be playing anywhere else for the rest of his career (unless Vegas flips him later on or he decides to sign elsewhere in the summer of 2024.

For now, the extensions bolster Vegas’ vital depth for both regular season play and postseason clutch performances when you need it most from players you might otherwise least expect down the lineup.

Among other choices made this offseason, McCrimmon was busy working the phones for trade calls and landed a pair of reclamation projects for the 2021-22 season and beyond in Nolan Patrick and Evgenii Dadonov, but first a quick recap of all the trades Vegas made this summer.

On July 17th, the Golden Knights dealt defender, Nick DeSimone, and a 2022 4th round pick to the New York Rangers for forward, Brett Howden.

That same day, Vegas completed a transaction with the Nashville Predators, acquiring Patrick in exchange for Cody Glass and sealed the door on trading all three of their 2017 1st round picks (Glass, Nick Suzuki and Erik Brännström) for other assets.

At the second day of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, McCrimmon got in touch with Detroit Red Wings General Manager, Steve Yzerman, and swapped draft picks all day– sending 2021 2nd round pick (36th overall) to Detroit for a 2021 2nd round pick (38th overall) and a 2021 4th round pick (128th overall) in one trade, as well as dealing a 2021 4th round pick (114th overall) and a 2021 5th round pick (155th overall) to the Red Wings for a 2021 4th round pick (102nd overall).

A few days later on July 27th, the Golden Knights traded Fleury to Chicago for forward, Mikael Hakkarainen, who went unsigned and joined a team in Finland instead.

The next day, Vegas traded defender, Nick Holden, and a 2022 3rd round pick to the Ottawa Senators for Dadonov.

Then on July 29th, McCrimmon shipped fourth line forward, Ryan Reaves, to the Rangers for a 2022 3rd round pick.

Alright, back to Patrick and Dadonov for a second.

Last season, Patrick amassed 4-5–9 totals in 52 games with the Philadelphia Flyers in his first season back since missing all of 2019-20 due to migraines stemming from post concussion syndrome. The 23-year-old is feeling refreshed and looking for a career rejuvenation in the desert with the Golden Knights.

Meanwhile, Dadonov is coming off a down year in which he recorded 20 points (13 goals, seven assists) in 55 games with the Ottawa Senators after amassing 25-22–47 totals in 69 games with the Florida Panthers in 2019-20 after back-to-back seasons with at least 65 points.

The 32-year-old forward is looking to avoid further decline as he is soon to enter the twilight of his prime– approaching his mid-30s having yet to reach the 30-goal plateau or live up to his $5.000 million cap hit through 2022-23.

Time will tell if Vegas can help right the ship.

Offseason Grade: C-

Trading Fleury in the way that they did is hard to swallow– especially since it broke up one of the better goaltending tandems in the league from last season to this season.

At the very least, moving on from Fleury allowed Vegas to hold onto Janmark and Martinez in the manner that they did rather than court this summer’s top free agent, thereby forcing their own hand by trading another “core” player due to salary cap restraints and possibly disrupting the chemistry in the dressing room.

Overall, McCrimmon’s moves this summer seem like lateral transactions for a team that has $0 in salary cap space and should be contending for a Cup ring, but always seems to fall short for one reason or another.

Entering their fifth season of existence, the Golden Knights have this two more years to beat or match the Flyers’ record for the fastest expansion team to win their first Stanley Cup championship in league history.

Though their offseason may be unconvincing on paper, let’s hope they’ll prove us wrong and surprise the hockey world like they did when they made the 2018 Stanley Cup Final in their first season, but with a different outcome.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Lightning repeat as Stanley Cup champions in Game 5 shutout

Ross Colton’s goal was more than enough to seal the deal on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s third Stanley Cup championship in franchise history Wednesday night at Amalie Arena in Game 5 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

Andrei Vasilevskiy made 22 saves in a, 1-0, shutout victory on home ice over the Montréal Canadiens as he became the first goaltender since legendary Canadiens goaltender, Ken Dryden, to play in every playoff game en route to winning back-to-back Stanley Cup rings.

It was also the 5th shutout (6th of his postseason career) for Vasilevskiy this postseason as the Lightning goaltender became the first in league history to win all four series clinching games in a shutout.

He’s also won his last five consecutive playoff series’ in shutout fashion as Tampa shutout the Dallas Stars, 2-0, in Game 6 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final before going on their 2021 run by shutting out the Florida Panthers, 4-0, in Game 6 of Tampa’s 2021 First Round matchup, eliminating the Carolina Hurricanes, 2-0, in Game 5 in the 2021 Second Round and beating the New York Islanders and Canadiens, 1-0, in Game 7 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals and Game 5 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, respectively.

Colton was also the fourth rookie to score a Stanley Cup clinching goal since 1927, in Wednesday night’s effort.

The Bolts are back-to-back Stanley Cup champions, having won the Cup in 2020 and 2021, as the first repeat champions since the Pittsburgh Penguins did so in 2016 and 2017.

Tampa also did so in a span of about 10 months, since the ongoing global pandemic altered the National Hockey League’s postseason calendar for 2020, and shortened the 2020-21 league calendar to 56 games in the regular season, followed by a postseason that began in May and ended in the first week of July.

Last year, the Lightning raised the Cup as the designated road team at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta at a neutral site as the NHL played through the COVID-19 pandemic in a bubble in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

This year, for the first time in 17 years, the Bolts raised the Cup in front of their home fans as 2004 Stanley Cup champion with Tampa, Dave Andreychuk, watched along in attendance to cap the 2020-21 Lightning’s run.

In 2004, NHL on ESPN and NHL on ABC coverage had come to an end with the conclusion of Tampa’s Game 7 victory over the Calgary Flames in the Stanley Cup Final.

The 2004-05 season-long lockout that ultimately canceled all NHL action for the year meant that ESPN could punt their broadcasting rights to the 2005-06 season or opt out altogether.

They chose the latter.

That’s when NBC stepped in and the NHL had games on Outdoor Life Network, then Versus, NBC Sports Network (which shortly rebranded as NBCSN), as well as on NBC.

In 2021, NHL on NBC signed off for the final time as the league shifts its focus back to ESPN/Disney and Turner Sports for the next seven seasons in the United States starting with the 2021-22 season (the 2021 Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft and first round of the 2021 NHL Draft will be on ESPN2 this month, if you’re wondering).

Back at Amalie Arena on Wednesday night, Vasilevskiy (16-7, 1.90 goals-against average, .937 save percentage in 23 games played) made 22 saves on 22 shots against en route to winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs’ Most Valuable Player.

Montréal goaltender, Carey Price (13-9, 2.28 goals-against average, .924 save percentage in 22 games) stopped 29 out of 30 shots faced in the loss.

Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, improved to 9-0 all time in a series when leading 2-0, while the Bolts became the first team to raise the Cup on home ice since Chicago did so in 2015.

Pat Maroon, meanwhile, also became the first player (and fourth overall) since Ed Litzenberger to win three consecutive Cups with two different teams as Litzenberger won with Chicago in 1961, as well as Toronto from 1962-64.

Neither Habs head coach, Dominique Ducharme, nor Cooper, made a change to their lineups for Game 5 on Wednesday.

Alex Killorn remained out of the lineup for the Lightning for fourth game in-a-row after blocking a shot in Game 1. He told reporters after the game that he suffered a broken left fibula in Game 1 and wanted to suit up again if he could play.

Corey Perry kicked things off in Game 5 with a hooking infraction as Perry impeded Mathieu Joseph’s play and presented the Lightning with the game’s first power play at 3:21 of the first period.

Tampa couldn’t convert on the ensuing skater advantage, however.

Moments later, the Canadiens got their first chance on the power play as Jan Rutta cross checked Artturi Lehkonen at 7:19.

Montréal’s time on the advantage was unchanged as Erik Cernak earned an interference minor and Perry was assessed an embellishment infraction almost a minute after Rutta cut a rut to the penalty box at 8:15.

About 30 seconds after Cernak and Perry went to the sin bin, though, Josh Anderson hooked Blake Coleman and joined his teammates in Montréal’s box at 8:43 of the opening frame.

The two teams skated at 4-on-4 for 37 seconds before Tampa had an abbreviated power play thereafter.

Just past the midpoint of the first period, the Bolts were outshooting the Habs, 11-2, with 9:53 remaining in the opening period– reminiscent of how the Lightning outshot the Canadiens, 11-1, through the first half of the first period in Game 4.

Entering the first intermission, the score was still tied, 0-0, despite Tampa outshooting Montréal, 13-4.

The Bolts also held the advantage in blocked shots (3-0), takeaways (2-1) and hits (25-16), while the Habs led in faceoff win percentage (52-48) after one period.

Both teams had three giveaways each while the Canadiens were 0/1 and the Lightning were 0/2 on the power play heading into the middle frame.

David Savard sent an errant puck over the glass and out of play and received an automatic minor 21 seconds into the second period, but the Habs couldn’t score on the resulting power play.

Almost midway through the second frame, Mikhail Sergachev tripped up Nick Suzuki and presented the Canadiens with another power play that went by the wayside at 8:32.

Moments later in Tampa’s attacking zone, Ryan McDonagh made a lateral pass along the blue line to Savard, who promptly crashed the slot and slid a shot pass towards the crease for Colton (4) to redirect into the twine.

Savard (5) and McDonagh (8) had the assists on Colton’s goal as the Lightning took a, 1-0, lead at 13:27 of the second period.

Keeping in the trend with the rest of the series– the team that scored first in each game won the game.

Late in the period, Ben Chiarot yanked Brayden Point down on a breakaway, yielding a power play to the Bolts as a result as Chiarot was assessed with a holding infraction at 19:22.

Though the ensuing skater advantage spanned the end of the second period and the start of the final frame of regulation, the Bolts couldn’t find a way to solve Montréal’s penalty kill.

After 40 minutes of action at Amalie Arena on Wednesday night, the Lightning lead the Canadiens, 1-0, on the scoreboard and were outshooting the Habs, 19-14, despite Montréal holding a, 10-6, advantage in shots on goal in the second period alone.

Tampa held the lead in blocked shots (4-3), takeaways (7-3), giveaways (10-3) and hits (44-35), while the Canadiens led in faceoff win% (54-46).

Both teams were 0/3 on the power play heading into the final period.

Early in the third period, Nikita Kucherov had a great chance to score, but Price stood tall and shut him down while losing his stick and making desperation saves.

Montréal responded with a breakaway as Anderson burst into the zone with tremendous speed, was denied by Vasilevskiy and ultimately crashed back-first into the post and briefly went down the tunnel before returning for the rest of the game.

With 1:51 remaining in the third period, Ducharme pulled Price for an extra attacker, but after a stoppage resulted in neutral zone faceoff, the Habs sent Price back into the crease for a few seconds to ensure a little security between the pipes if they lost the draw.

Montréal won the ensuing faceoff as Price once again sprinted for the bench with 1:36 remaining, but Tampa’s defense was too much for the Canadiens– though the Lightning’s offense couldn’t put an exclamation point on the game with an empty net goal.

The Habs used their timeout with 1:24 remaining as assistant coach, Alex Burrows, tried to rally his players for one last push.

At the final horn, Vasilevskiy and the Bolts earned a, 1-0, shutout in Game 5 and clinched their second-straight Stanley Cup ring in as many years.

Wednesday night marked the third time that Tampa won the Cup in franchise history.

The Bolts also improved to 17-3 all time when scoring first in series-clinching games.

Tampa finished Game 5 leading in shots on goal, 30-22, including an, 11-8, advantage in the third period alone.

The Lightning dominated in just about everything else at the end of the night, leading in giveaways (11-6), hits (56-48) and faceoff win% (52-48), while both teams had nine blocked shots each.

Montréal exited the building 0/3 on the power play, but then again, Tampa also struggled on the skater advantage in the action– going 0/3 on Wednesday night as well.

Tampa finished the 2021 postseason 16-7 overall, while the Habs went 13-9.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Habs hold off elimination in overtime victory at home

For the first time since 1993, the Montréal Canadiens won a game in the Stanley Cup Final as Josh Anderson scored the game-winning goal almost four minutes into overtime to lift the Habs over the Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-2, on Monday night at Bell Centre.

As a result of the loss, the Lightning hold onto a 3-1 series lead with their next chance to clinch back-to-back Cups on Wednesday night in front of their home fans at Amalie Arena in Game 5.

Carey Price (13-8, 2.34 goals-against average, .922 save percentage in 21 games played) stopped 32 out of 34 shots faced in the win for Montréal.

Tampa goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy (15-7, 1.99 goals-against average, .935 save percentage in 22 games played), made 18 saves on 21 shots against in the loss.

Canadiens head coach, Dominique Ducharme, replaced Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jon Merrill and Erik Gustafsson in his lineup with Jake Evans, Alex Romanov and Brett Kulak.

Ducharme put Romanov on the left side of Kulak on the third defensive pairing and switched up his top-nine forwards– promoting Tyler Toffoli to the left side of the first line with Phillip Danault at center and Brendan Gallagher on right wing, while Anderson was promoted to the second line with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield remaining in place.

Meanwhile, Evans took over at center on the third line with Paul Byron on his left wing and Artturi Lehkonen on his right side.

Alex Killorn entered Monday night as a “game-time decision” according to Tampa’s head coach, Jon Cooper, and took part in warmup for the Lightning– but did not take part in any line rushes, so Cooper made no changes to his lineup from Game 3.

Attendance at Bell Centre was once again limited by the Québec provincial government and local health administrations and officially read as 3,500 fans for Game 4 as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues around the globe.

Past the midpoint of the opening frame, Tampa led Montréal in shots on goal, 10-1.

Unfortunately for the Lightning’s potent offense and shutdown defense, the Canadiens’ second shot on net was a goal.

The Bolts botched an effort to move the puck out of their own zone, while the Habs sustained pressure leading to a give-and-go for Suzuki and Caufield, whereby Suzuki then rid himself of the puck on a pass to Anderson (4) through the low slot from the trapezoid for a one-timer goal and the, 1-0, lead.

Suzuki (9) and Caufield (7) tallied the assists on Anderson’s goal as the Canadiens struck first at 15:39 of the first period and their first at any point in the series– ending a span of 255:39 without trailing for the Lightning since Game 7 against the New York Islanders in the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals round.

Less than a minute later, Evans and Brayden Point were off to the penalty box together as Evans was assessed an interference infraction and Point was given two-minutes for roughing at 16:33 of the first period.

The two clubs almost got through a pair of minutes at 4-on-4 without any issue before Joel Edmundson caught Blake Coleman with a slash at 17:59, yielding a 4-on-3 advantage for Tampa for 34 seconds before the remainder of an abbreviated 5-on-4 advantage for the Lightning would commence.

While on the ensuing power play, Point rang the post as the Bolts tried to even things up, but failed to convert on the advantage.

At the horn, both benches converged at center ice as the players were about to go back to the dressing rooms for the first intermission, but first exchanged some pleasantries.

Pat Maroon and Edmundson both received unsportsmanlike minors at 20:00 of the first period, which resulted in 4-on-4 action to start the middle frame.

After one period, Montréal led, 1-0, on the scoreboard, despite Tampa holding a, 12-5, advantage in shots on goal.

The Habs led in blocked shots (5-3) and giveaways (7-2), while the Bolts held the advantage in takeaways (3-1), hits (15-13) and faceoff win percentage (79-21).

Tampa had the only skater advantage in the opening frame and went 0/1, while Montréal had yet to see time on the power play.

The Canadiens got their first chance on the skater advantage at 5:50 of the second period as Point caught Lehkonen with a high stick and cut a rut to the sin bin as a result.

The Habs failed to convert on the power play.

Moments later, Corey Perry cut a rut to the box for hooking Tyler Johnson at 9:43, but once again the Lightning couldn’t muster anything on the advantage.

Nor could the Bolts get anything going when Joel Armia tripped up Mathieu Joseph at 14:28 and presented Tampa with another power play as a result– despite Victor Hedman ringing the iron on a heavy shot.

Late in the period, Jeff Petry failed to clear the zone on a pass that was broken up by Ryan McDonagh.

The puck deflected off of McDonagh’s stick and sailed through the air to Coleman who worked it to McDonagh in the slot on a short pass as the Tampa defender pinched and dropped the rubber biscuit back to Barclay Goodrow (2) for the one-timer past Price while the Canadiens goaltender was out of position.

McDonagh (7) and Coleman (8) notched the assists as the Lightning tied it, 1-1, at 17:20 of the second period.

Entering the second intermission, the Bolts and Habs were tied, 1-1, on the scoreboard despite Tampa leading in shots on net, 20-14, through 40 minutes of action.

Montréal, however, held the advantage in shots in the second period alone, 9-8, and led in giveaways (14-7), while the Lightning led in hits (30-28) after two periods.

Both teams had six blocked shots each, three takeaways each and split faceoff win%, 50-50, entering the final frame of regulation.

Tampa was 0/3 and Montréal was 0/1 on the power play heading into the third frame.

Almost midway into the final frame of regulation, Petry, Ben Chiarot, Anderson, Goodrow, Coleman and Yanni Gourde all received matching roughing minors for a scrum after the whistle at 7:42 of the third period.

The six skaters wouldn’t come out of the box for over six minutes as there weren’t many stoppages before their penalties expired.

About a minute after the six skaters went into the box, Romanov (1) wired a shot through traffic into the twine over Vasilevskiy’s blocker and just under the bar as Lehkonen skated by the Tampa netminder acting as a screen.

Evans (1) had the only assist on Romanov’s goal and the Habs took a, 2-1, lead at 8:48 of the third period, while Romanov became the youngest (21 years, 180 days) Canadiens defender in franchise history to score a goal in the Stanley Cup Final.

About five minutes later, Joseph led Maroon on a rush the other way from their own blue line into the attacking zone whereby Joseph setup Maroon (2) for a shot pass redirection goal to tie the game, 2-2, at 13:47.

Joseph (2) and Johnson (3) had the assists on Maroon’s goal.

Moments later, Nikita Kucherov hit the post– the third time of the night that Tampa registered a shot attempt off the iron– as the Bolts almost took the lead for the first time of the night.

Late in the period, off an attacking zone faceoff, Shea Weber caught Ondrej Palat with a stick to the face and drew some blood, yielding a four-minute double minor penalty at 18:59 of the third period.

Tampa’s advantage would spill over into the overtime period, but like the rest of the night, the Lightning couldn’t score on the skater advantage.

After regulation the Bolts and Habs were knotted up, 2-2, on the scoreboard despite Tampa holding the advantage in shots on goal, 30-19, including a, 10-5, advantage in the third period alone.

Montréal held the lead in blocked shots (17-15), takeaways (7-4), giveaways (19-13) and faceoff win% (55-46), while Tampa led in hits (36-34).

As there were no penalties called in overtime, the Lightning finished the night 0/5 on the power play, while the Canadiens went 0/1.

Tampa nearly allowed a shorthanded goal when Hedman blew a tire along the blue line and failed to keep the puck in the attacking zone while Danault and Suzuki were off to the races and generated a one-timer on Vasilevskiy that the Lightning goaltender turned aside.

As the Habs surged in momentum and the Bolts got off to a slow start in the extra frame, Cooper used his timeout after a stoppage with 17:33 remaining in overtime.

Shortly thereafter, Anderson beat Jan Rutta and led a rush the other way with Caufield before the two kept hacking away at the loose puck on a rebound until Anderson (5) slipped it past Vasilevskiy on the short side.

Caufield (8) had the only assist on the goal at 3:57.

Montréal took Game 5, 3-2, in overtime and cut Tampa’s series lead to 3-1 as a result.

Despite losing, the Lightning finished the night with more shots on goal– leading the Canadiens, 34-21, in that department, including a, 4-2, advantage in overtime alone.

The Habs finished Monday night’s effort leading in blocked shots (19-16), giveaways (20-13) and faceoff win% (52-48), while Tampa exited the building leading in hits (36-35).

The Bolts are 1-3 in their first attempts to close out a playoff series this postseason– only beating the Carolina Hurricanes on their first try in Game 5 of their Second Round matchup.

Tampa also had two losses in overtime in games when they had a chance to finish the series, including Game 6 on Long Island against the New York Islanders.

The Lightning are now 0-4 in overtime this postseason, while Montréal improved to 6-1 past regulation in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs– winning their first game in a Stanley Cup Final when facing elimination for the 12th time in franchise history and first since Game 7 against Chicago in the 1971 Stanley Cup Final.

Road teams are now 50-41-3 in a Stanley Cup Final game that required overtime after Monday night’s win for the home team Canadiens.

The most recent team to trail in the Final 3-0 to force a Game 5 was in 2014, when the New York Rangers forced the Los Angeles Kings to a Game 5 at Staples Center that the Kings ended up winning and taking home their second Stanley Cup championship in franchise history.

On Wednesday, the Lightning attempt to repeat Los Angeles’ success in a Game 5 on home ice as they’ll host Montréal at Amalie Arena.

Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune to NBC, while those in Canada can choose from CBC, SN or TVAS.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Lightning one win away from repeating as Stanley Cup champions

The Tampa Bay Lightning are one win away from sweeping the Montréal Canadiens– and winning their third Stanley Cup championship in franchise history in the process– after defeating the Canadiens, 6-3, at Bell Centre on Friday night in Game 3.

Friday night marked the first Stanley Cup Final game in Montréal since the Habs won it all in Game 5 of their series against the Los Angeles Kings on June 9, 1993.

Andrei Vasilevskiy (15-6, 1.94 goals-against average, .938 save percentage in 21 games played) made 32 saves on 35 shots against in the win for the Lightning.

Meanwhile, Canadiens goaltender, Carey Price (12-8, 2.36 goals-against average, .921 save percentage in 20 games played) stopped 24 out of 29 shots faced in the loss.

Jon Cooper made no changes to his lineup for the Lightning while Alex Killorn remained out of commission due to an undisclosed injury that he sustained while blocking a shot in Game 1.

Canadiens head coach, Dominique Ducharme, was back behind the bench for the Habs after testing positive for COVID-19 in the last playoff round against the Vegas Golden Knights and self-isolating.

Ducharme made no adjustments to his lineup, while Luke Richardson returned to his usual role as an assistant coach for Montréal after serving as their temporary leader for the last six games.

The Québec provincial government made 3,500 seats available for Bell Centre’s seating capacity for Game 3, though it looked like more fans found a way in somehow on the television broadcast.

Jan Rutta (2) kicked things off with a shot from the point that floated over Price’s shoulder on the blocker side into the twine– giving Tampa a, 1-0, lead at 1:52 of the first period in the process and becoming the first player in NHL history to score a goal (regular season or playoffs) in the month of July.

Ondrej Palat (7) and Victor Hedman (16) tallied the assists on Rutta’s goal.

About a minute later, Eric Staal sent the puck over the glass and out of play for an automatic delay of game infraction at 2:54, yielding the night’s first power play to the Lightning in the process.

It didn’t take the Bolts that long on the skater advantage to convert with a power-play goal from Hedman (2) as the Lightning worked the puck around the attacking zone and back to the defender wearing No. 77.

He sent a slap shot off of Price, under the glove and into the back of the net to give Tampa a, 2-0, lead at 3:27 of the first period, while Nikita Kucherov (24) and Anthony Cirelli (7) picked up the assists.

Hedman became the first player in league history to record at least one goal in all 12 calendar months, while Montréal used their timeout to gather their composure.

Moments later, Blake Coleman went down awkwardly after missing Joel Edmundson on a hit attempt in open ice, but got up under his own power after a whistle and continued to play unscathed for the rest of the night.

Shortly thereafter, Cole Caufield sniped a shot off of the left post behind Vasilevskiy– beating the Lightning goaltender on the lower right pad– but the puck came back out of the crease and away from the attacking zone.

Midway through the first period, Phillip Danault (1) held the puck as he entered the zone and sent a shot off of Vasilevskiy that bounced off the left post and right post before finding its way into the net.

Shea Weber (5) had the only assist on Danault’s goal at 11:16 as the Canadiens cut Tampa’s lead in half, 2-1.

Late in the period, Mikhail Sergachev caught Artturi Lehkonen away from the puck just far enough from being considered a net front presence to yield an interference infraction at 17:29.

The Habs were not able to muster anything on the ensuing power play– their first skater advantage of the night.

Through 20 minutes of action, the Lightning led, 2-1, on the scoreboard, despite the Canadiens holding a, 17-12, advantage in shots on goal.

Montréal also led in blocked shots (5-4), while Tampa led in giveaways (5-4), hits (21-19) and faceoff win percentage (52-48) entering the first intermission.

Neither team had recorded a takeaway through one period of play, while the Bolts were 1/1 and the Habs were 0/1 on the power play heading into the middle frame.

Just like how they got off to a quick start in the first period, the Lightning got off to a fast start in the second period as the Bolts caught the Habs on a poor line change with the long change playing into the end result.

The Canadiens failed to get the puck deep while trying to change things up, which led to a 2-on-0 heading back the other way for Tampa as Palat setup Kucherov (8) for the backhand redirection goal to make it, 3-1, Lightning at 1:40 of the second period.

Palat (8) and Erik Cernak (9) tallied the assists on Kucherov’s goal.

Almost two minutes later, Mathieu Joseph generated a rebound off Price that bounced off of Joseph’s skate right to his teammate in Tyler Johnson as Johnson crashed the net.

Johnson (3) got a backhand shot on the puck and fluttered the rubber biscuit past Price while the Habs goaltender reacted in desperation.

Joseph (1) and David Savard (4) notched the assists on Johnson’s goal as the Lightning extended their lead to, 4-1, at 3:33 of the second period.

Moments later, Cernak sent a shot off the post in the same end that Caufield rang the iron in the opening frame.

Late in the period, Nick Suzuki (7) went end-to-end with speed and sent a shot under Vasilevskiy’s right leg pad from just inside the faceoff dot on a soft goal to cut Tampa’s lead to two-goals.

Jeff Petry (6) and Caufield (6) had the helpers on Suzuki’s goal as the Canadiens trailed the Lightning, 4-2, on the scoreboard at 18:04 of the second period.

Tampa entered the second intermission leading, 4-2, despite trailing in shots on goal to the Habs, 25-21. The Bolts held the advantage in shots on net in the second period alone, however, as they outshot Montréal, 9-8, in the middle frame.

The Canadiens led in giveaways (15-9), while Tampa dominated in everything else– leading in blocked shots (11-8), takeaways (1-0), hits (36-33) and faceoff win% (54-46) after 40 minutes of action on Friday.

As there were no penalties called in the second period, the Habs remained 0/1 on the power play, while the Bolts were 1/1 on the skater advantage heading into the final frame of regulation.

There were no penalties called in the final frame and the action picked up late in the period as Johnson (4) scored on another rebound while crashing the net– shoveling the puck into the twine on Price’s blocker side to make it, 5-2, for the Lightning at 15:19 of the third period.

Johnson’s second goal of the game was unassisted.

With 4:12 remaining in the game, Ducharme pulled Price for an extra attacker and the Habs went to work on cutting into Tampa’s lead.

Corey Perry (4) patiently carried the puck from the corner in the attacking zone to between the goal line and inside the faceoff dot, where he wired a shot over Vasilevskiy’s shoulder on the short side under the bar to bring the Canadiens to within two goals.

Brendan Gallagher (4) and Ben Chiarot (1) had the assists on Perry’s 45th career postseason goal as the Lightning led, 5-3, at 15:58 of the third period.

Once more, Price vacated the net for an extra attacker, but this time Tampa took full advantage of the open frame in the crease as Barclay Goodrow forced Caufield to turn the puck over off of Petry’s skate whereby Coleman (3) scooped up the loose puck and buried it for an empty net goal.

Goodrow (4) had the only assist on Coleman’s goal as the Bolts pulled ahead, 6-3, and sealed the deal on their Game 3 victory at 16:48 of the third period.

At the final horn, the Lightning had taken a 3-0 series lead with a, 6-3, victory despite trailing in shots on goal, 35-30, including a, 10-9, advantage in the third period alone for the Canadiens.

Montréal wrapped up Friday night’s action leading in giveaways (26-15), while Tampa held the advantage in blocked shots (13-11), hits (46-38) and faceoff win% (51-49).

Each team had one opportunity on the power play on Friday with the Lightning going 1/1 and the Canadiens finishing 0/1 on the skater advantage.

The Bolts became the fourth team in the Expansion Era (since 1967-68) to win the first three games in a Stanley Cup Final without trailing, joining the 2012 Los Angeles Kings and the 1977, as well as 1969 Canadiens in doing so.

Los Angeles went on to eliminate the New Jersey Devils in six games in 2012, to capture their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, while Montréal swept the Boston Bruins in the 1977 Stanley Cup Final and the St. Louis Blues in 1969.

Tampa can become the first team to sweep their opponent in the Final since the Detroit Red Wings swept the Washington Capitals in 1998.

The Lightning can win their third Stanley Cup ring in Game 4 on Monday night at Bell Centre in Montréal as the Canadiens look to avoid being eliminated on home ice.

Puck drop is expected to be a little after 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune to NBC for the action, while those in Canada can choose from CBC, SN or TVAS for coverage.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Lightning yield commanding 2-0 series lead in, 3-1, victory

Though they were outshot, 43-23, on the night, Blake Coleman’s eventual game-winning goal with only seconds to spare in the second period and Ondrej Palat’s insurance marker thereafter in the third period were enough to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to a, 3-1, win over the Montréal Canadiens on Wednesday.

Andrei Vasilevskiy (14-6, 1.89 goals-against average, .939 save percentage in 20 games played) made 42 saves on 43 shots against in the Game 2 victory for the Lightning as the Bolts took a 2-0 series lead in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final in front of their home fans at Amalie Arena.

Canadiens goaltender, Carey Price (12-7, 2.23 goals-against average, .926 save percentage in 19 games played), stopped 20 out of 23 shots faced in the loss.

Joel Armia returned to the lineup for Montréal on the Canadiens’ fourth line alongside Eric Staal and Corey Perry after missing Game 1. Armia was cleared from COVID protocol on Monday and flew in a private jet to Tampa and was not quite ready to go ahead of the, 5-1, loss in Game 1.

That was the only change to the lineup for Luke Richardson as Richardson remained at the reigns of the Habs on Wednesday.

Canadiens head coach, Dominique Ducharme, is expected to return behind the bench on Friday in time for Game 3 at Bell Centre in Montréal, where Ducharme has been isolating since testing positive for COVID-19 last month.

At the other end of the rink, Alex Killorn missed Game 2 after blocking a shot in Game 1 and playing in limited ice time thereafter. Tyler Johnson was promoted to Tampa’s second line, while Jon Cooper inserted Mathieu Joseph on the Lightning’s fourth line as a result.

The Bolts hosted 18,600 fans in attendance on Wednesday, which was up from Monday night’s capacity limit of 16,300.

The Québec provincial government informed the Canadiens on Wednesday night that Bell Centre would be limited to 3,500 fans for Game 3 on Friday– despite the large crowd that is sure to gather outside the arena anyway during the game.

Habs defender, Jeff Petry, tripped Brayden Point and presented the Lightning with the night’s first power play at 5:29 of the first period.

Tampa wasn’t able to convert on the skater advantage, however.

The Bolts had another unsuccessful power play moments later when Paul Byron cut a rut to the penalty box for catching Steven Stamkos with a slash at 9:57.

Once more, however, Tampa couldn’t score on the advantage.

Byron later returned to the sin bin for slashing once more at 17:27 of the first period, only this time he took Lightning defender, Erik Cernak, with him as Cernak was assessed a retaliatory cross checking infraction.

Meanwhile, Ryan McDonagh had caught Phillip Danault with a high stick and drew blood, yielding a four-minute double minor penalty at the same time.

As a result, Montréal went on a 4-on-3 power play for a pair of minutes before the Canadiens had a run-of-the-mill 5-on-4 skater advantage for the remainder of McDonagh’s minor (which would spill into the middle frame).

Neither team found the back of the net prior to the first horn of the night to signal the start of the first intermission.

The score remained, 0-0, despite the Canadiens leading in shots on goal, 13-6.

The Habs led in blocked shots (8-1), hits (14-11) and faceoff win percentage (53-47), while the Bolts held the advantage in takeaways (5-1) and giveaways (3-1).

Both teams went 0/2 on the power play through one period on Wednesday.

Tampa was the first to get on the scoreboard as Johnson worked the puck back to Anthony Cirelli at the point whereby Cirelli (5) sent a floating shot from almost downtown through traffic off of Price’s blocker and under the Canadiens’ goaltender’s arm into the twine.

Johnson (2) and Jan Rutta (1) tallied the assists on Cirelli’s goal as the Lightning pulled ahead, 1-0, at 6:40 of the second period.

Cirelli’s goal was just the second shot on net for the Bolts in a span of almost 16 minutes.

Moments later, Mikhail Sergachev was penalized for interference at 10:03 and presented the Canadiens with another power play.

This time, Montréal made quick work of the skater advantage– in part, due to a couple lucky bounces.

Nick Suzuki (6) flipped a backhand shot towards the net as the puck bounced off the ice, caught McDonagh’s stick, changed direction and slipped through Vasilevskiy’s five-hole as Perry acted as a screen in front of the Tampa netminder.

Suzuki’s power-play goal was unassisted and tied the game, 1-1, at 10:36 of the second period.

Late in the period, Armia caught Coleman with a high stick at 16:38 and presented the Lightning with another power play.

Though Tampa wouldn’t score on the skater advantage, they would catch the Canadiens in the vulnerable minute after special teams action as the Habs turned the puck over in the neutral zone.

Barclay Goodrow chipped the rubber biscuit to himself around Ben Chiarot and entered the attacking zone on a rush with Coleman.

Goodrow then sent a backhand pass to Coleman (2) for the one-timed swing while diving to reach the puck– connecting on the mid-air rubber and scoring in the process to give the Lightning a, 2-1, lead at 19:58 of the second period.

It was the first goal for Coleman in 19 games as Goodrow (3) and McDonagh (6) picked up the assists and the Bolts entered the second intermission with the lead on the scoreboard.

Through 40 minutes, Tampa led, 2-1, despite trailing in shots on goal, 29-13. Montréal held a, 16-7, advantage in shots on net in the second period alone.

The Habs also led in blocked shots (9-6) and faceoff win% (54-46), while the Lightning led in takeaways (9-4), giveaways (4-1) and hits (28-24).

The Canadiens were 1/3 on the power play and the Bolts were 0/3 on the skater advantage heading into the final frame.

Joel Edmundson sent a reverse pass off the boards behind his own net intended for Petry, but Palat (5) intercepted the puck and banked it off of Price into the back of the net as the Canadiens defenders miscommunication proved costly at 15:42 of the third period.

Palat’s unassisted goal gave the Lightning a, 3-1, lead and secured the victory as such.

Moments later, Montréal pulled Price for an extra skater with about two minutes remaining in the game and used their timeout after a stoppage with 46.7 seconds to go, but it was to no avail.

At the final horn, Tampa had won, 3-1, and taken a 2-0 series lead as a result.

The two teams exchanged further pleasantries, yielding a cross checking minor and a misconduct for Cirelli at 20:00 of the third period, as well as a roughing minor and a misconduct for Perry at the same time.

Montréal finished the night leading in shots on goal, 43-23, including a, 14-10, advantage in the third period alone.

The Habs exited the building leading in faceoff win% (53-47), while the Bolts wrapped up Wednesday night leading in blocked shots (14-10), giveaways (6-2) and hits (40-36).

Despite each team receiving a couple infractions to finish off the night, the Canadiens finished 1/3 and the Lightning went 0/3 on the power play in Game 2.

For the first time in four Stanley Cup Final appearances, Tampa had a 2-0 series lead and didn’t split the series 1-1 through Games 1 and 2.

Another interesting stat from the night relates to the fact that the Habs fell to 10-4 this postseason when not giving up a goal in the first period. They dominated in shots on goal and have been the best at comebacks this postseason and yet…

Just not enough on Wednesday, apparently.

The series shifts to Bell Centre in Montréal on Friday night where the Lightning look to go up 3-0 in the series, while the Canadiens look to win Game 3 and cut Tampa’s series lead to 2-1.

Puck drop is set for 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBC, while those in Canada can choose from CBC, SN or TVAS.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Lightning rout Canadiens in Game 1 victory at home

Nikita Kucherov scored a pair of goals as the Tampa Bay Lightning cruised to a, 5-1, victory over the Montréal Canadiens Monday night at Amalie Arena in Game 1 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

Andrei Vasilevskiy (13-6, 1.94 goals-against average, .936 save percentage in 19 games) made 18 saves on 19 shots against in the win as the Lightning jumped out to a 1-0 series lead in the Final.

Habs netminder, Carey Price (12-6, 2.18 goals-against average, .928 save percentage in 18 games played), stopped 22 out of 27 shots faced in the loss.

Jake Evans returned to the lineup for the Canadiens for the first time since sustaining a concussion on a charge from Mark Scheifele in Game 1 of Montréal’s Second Round series against the Winnipeg Jets.

Evans missed the last nine games for the Habs.

Meanwhile, Joel Armia was cleared from COVID protocol on Monday, flew in a private jet to Tampa and participated in warmup, but was not ready to go as a game-time decision.

Canadiens head coach, Dominique Ducharme, will return to his regular role behind the bench in Montréal for Game 3, since testing positive for COVID-19 on June 18th and self-isolating.

In accordance with Canadian regulations, Ducharme will did not travel to the United States for Games 1 and 2 in Tampa, so he won’t have to quarantine for another 14 days when the series shifts to Montréal for Games 3 and 4.

Luke Richardson remains in command for the Habs until Bell Centre hosts its first Stanley Cup Final game.

16,300 fans filled Amalie Arena on Monday night as Tampa continues to loosen indoor COVID-19 restrictions in attendance in accordance with the NHL’s protocols. It was the largest crowd for a Lightning game since last season.

Bolts head coach, Jon Cooper, rolled out Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Kucherov on his first line, while completing his top-six forward group with Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli and Steven Stamkos on the second line.

Barclay Goodrow, Yanni Gourde and Blake Coleman comprised Tampa’s third line, while Pat Maroon, Tyler Johnson and Ross Colton carried the fourth line.

On defense, Cooper paired Victor Hedman with Jan Rutta as he’s done all postseason, while Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak served as his second pairing and Mikhail Sergachev was partnered with David Savard on the third defensive pair.

Richardson countered with Artturi Lehkonen, Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher on his first line, while Tyler Toffoli, Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield rounded out Montréal’s top-six forward group.

Paul Byron, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Josh Anderson skated together on the third line, while Evans, Eric Staal and Corey Perry slotted in on the fourth line.

On defense, Ben Chiarot suited up alongside Shea Weber, Joel Edmundson was paired with Jeff Petry and Erik Gustafsson skated with Jon Merrill on the third defensive pair for the Habs.

Cernak (1) opened the series’ scoring with a shot pass redirection goal over Price’s glove to give the Lightning a, 1-0, lead at 6:19 of the first period.

Palat (6) and Point (7) tallied the assists on Cernak’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal in his 46th career postseason game.

Late in the period, Goodrow cross checked Gallagher and presented the Canadiens with the first power play of the series at 15:21 of the first period.

Montréal didn’t convert on the ensuing skater advantage, however, as the Lightning remained in command on the scoreboard.

Tampa got a power play at 19:14 after Chiarot roughed up Kucherov, but the Bolts couldn’t muster anything on the power play despite the split ends of the advantage over the remaining time in the first period and a little more than the opening minute of the middle frame.

After one period, the Lightning led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 7-5.

Tampa also held the advantage in takeaways (3-2), while Montréal led in giveaways (3-1), hits (26-19) and faceoff win percentage (56-44).

Both teams managed to have three blocked shots each and were 0/1 on the power play heading into the first intermission.

Chiarot sent a shot attempt at the goal frame that deflected off of something and caught the iron to the right of Vasilevskiy’s leg pad, but the Bolts remained in command uninterrupted.

Moments later, Gallagher turned the puck over in Montréal’s attacking zone, leading to a rush for the Lightning heading back the other way, whereby Goodrow sent a shot that was blocked before Coleman pounced on the loose puck and threw a shot towards the net.

Coleman’s shot went through Merrill and caught a piece of Gourde (6) as he stood in front of the crease acting as a screen before the rubber biscuit had eyes and made its way through Price’s five-hole to give Tampa a, 2-0, lead.

Coleman (7) and Goodrow (2) notched the assists on the goal as the Bolts took a two-goal lead at 5:47 of the second period.

Late in the middle frame, Chiarot played a little pinball after Tampa turned it over and the Habs worked the puck around the attacking zone.

Chiarot (1) unloaded on a slap shot that deflected off of Cirelli, then McDonagh and slipped behind Vasilevskiy to cut Tampa’s lead in half, 2-1, on the scoreboard at 17:40.

Kotkaniemi (3) and Weber (4) were credited with the helpers on Chiarot’s first goal of the 2021 postseason for the Canadiens.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Lightning led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and, 19-14, in shots on goal, including a, 12-9, advantage in shots on net in the second period alone.

Tampa also held the advantage in blocked shots (8-5), takeaways (7-2), giveaways (7-3) and faceoff win% (51-49), while Montréal led in hits (44-41).

As there were no penalties called in the second period, both teams remained 0/1 on the power play heading into the second intermission.

Kucherov (6) threw the puck into the slot early in the final frame and Chiarot smacked it out of the air with his glove, but somehow the puck managed to float over Price’s glove and under the bar to give the Lightning a, 3-1, lead at 2:00 of the third period.

Sergachev (3) had the only assist on Kucherov’s first goal of the night.

Minutes later, Staal and Cernak exchanged pleasantries after a stoppage and received roughing minors at 6:30, resulting in a pair of minutes of 4-on-4 action.

Midway through the third period, Kucherov (7) received a pass from Point on an attacking zone faceoff win and sent a laser of a shot past Price high on the glove side to extend Tampa’s lead to three-goals.

Point (8) had the only assist on Kucherov’s second goal of the game as the Bolts made it, 4-1, at 11:25 of the third period.

About a couple minutes later, Coleman took off Gallagher’s helmet after Price froze the puck in Montréal’s own zone and slammed Gallagher into the ice face first, resulting in a bit of a bloody gash on Gallagher’s forehead and yielding a power play to the Canadiens as a result.

Coleman cut a rut to the box for roughing at 13:42, but the Habs weren’t able to score on the ensuing skater advantage.

Shortly after killing off Coleman’s minor infraction, the Bolts went on the power play as Kotkaniemi retaliated with a high stick on Cernak at 15:51.

Edmundson joined Kotkaniemi in the box late in the resulting power play for roughing Gourde at 17:20, yielding a 5-on-3 advantage to the Lightning as a result, whereby Cooper sent out five forwards to make the Habs pay on the scoreboard.

About 90 seconds later, Tampa struck on the power play when Stamkos (8) blasted a one-timer from his usual spot in the faceoff dot to beat Price on the short side.

Kucherov (23) and Point (9) tallied the assists on Stamkos’ power-play goal and the Lightning extended their lead, 5-1, at 18:50 of the third period.

At the final horn, Tampa had taken a 1-0 series lead with a, 5-1, victory over Montréal in Game 1 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

The Bolts finished Monday night’s effort leading in shots on goal, 27-19, including an, 8-5, advantage in the third period alone.

The Lightning also wrapped up Game 1 leading in blocked shots (15-5) and giveaways (9-3), while the Canadiens finished the night leading in hits (58-57).

Faceoff win% was split evenly, 50-50, while the Habs went 0/2 and the Bolts went 1/3 on the power play.

Tampa has a chance to take a 2-0 series lead and Montréal’s got a chance to even the series 1-1 on Wednesday night in Game 2 from Amalie Arena.

Puck drop is set for a little after 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune to NBCSN for coverage, while those in Canada can choose from CBC, SN or TVAS.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Tampa repeats in preview of 2021 Stanley Cup Final

For 29 (soon to be 30) franchises, the calendar’s already flipped from 2020-21 to 2021-22, but for two teams remaining in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs there’s still one goal– winning the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

At one end of the rink, the Tampa Bay Lightning are looking to become the first team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups since the Pittsburgh Penguins did it in 2016 and 2017.

Lightning forward, Pat Maroon, is seeking to become the first player in the Expansion Era (since 1967) to win three consecutive Cup rings in as many seasons among two different franchises, having won his first with the St. Louis Blues in 2019, and his second last year with Tampa.

Maroon can also be the first player to win the Cup in three consecutive seasons in general since a bunch of players on the New York Islanders did so during the Isles’ dynasty from 1980-83.

At the other end of the rink, the Montréal Canadiens are seeking to win their first Stanley Cup– and 25th in franchise history– since 1993, which also happens to be the last time a Canadian club won the Cup.

The Habs were the last team to clinch a spot in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs and yet, here they are.

Corey Perry lost to the Lightning as a member of the Dallas Stars in six games in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final and has made it back to the Final for the third time in his career, while Eric Staal is back in Cup contention for the first time since 2006, when he won it all as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Perry won his first Stanley Cup ring with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.

Meanwhile, Carey Price is making his Stanley Cup Final debut as the greatest goaltender in Canadiens history since some guy named Patrick Roy won it all three years before demanding a trade out of Montréal.

It all comes down to this– four more wins and one team will be crowned as this year’s Stanley Cup champion.

For the first time since 2009, all games in the Stanley Cup Final will be played in the Eastern Time Zone. It’ll also be the first time that Stanley Cup Final games are held in July, much like how last year marked the first time the Final was held in September due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s also the first Stanley Cup Final since 1980, to feature teams that are normally in the same conference.

As a result of the ongoing pandemic, the league temporarily realigned to four divisions and no conferences for a 56-game regular season schedule, featuring the top-four teams in each division qualifying for the postseason and no international travel between the United States and Canada until the Semifinals round– which was held in place of the usual Conference Finals round.

Monday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, the 2021 Stanley Cup Final gets underway. Here’s a quick review and more on how each team got here since the dawn of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

(3) Tampa Bay Lightning (40-14-2, 82 points) vs (4) Montréal Canadiens (24-21-11, 59 points)

Tampa: 56 games played, .670 points percentage, 29 regulation wins.

Montréal: 56 games played, .527 points percentage, 20 regulation wins.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning are looking to go back-to-back as they defeated the Florida Panthers in six games (4-2) in the First Round, eliminated the Carolina Hurricanes in five games (4-1) in the Second Round and finished off the New York Islanders in seven games (4-3) in the Semifinals before reaching their second-straight appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.

Led by Brayden Point in regular season scoring with 23-35–48 totals in 56 games, teammates Ondrej Palat (15-31-46 totals in 55 games) and Victor Hedman (9-36–45 totals in 54 games) rounded out the top-three in Bolts scoring for 2020-21, while Nikita Kucherov spent the entire regular season on long term injured reserve.

It’s a legal loophole in the salary cap, whether it was exploited or not, Kucherov’s hip needed the time off while the Lightning stockpiled in unlimited playoff salary as the cap ceiling gets turned off when the postseason starts.

Kucherov’s play hasn’t skipped a beat as he leads Tampa with 27 points (five goals, 22 assists) in 18 games thus far in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Point trails Kucherov with 20 points (14 goals, six assists) in 18 games, followed by Alex Killorn (8-9–17 totals in 18 games), Steven Stamkos (7-10–17 totals in 18 games) and Hedman (1-15–16 totals in 18 games) to round out the top-five in team postseason scoring.

The Lightning can strike more than twice per game– in fact, they’re scoring about 3.22 goals for per game thus far, trailing only the eliminated Colorado Avalanche (3.80) for the most goals for per game this postseason.

Tampa trails the Toronto Maple Leafs– who were ousted in the First Round by Montréal in seven games– for the fewest goals against per game. The Bolts have allowed 2.06 goals against per game in 18 contests, while the Leafs had 2.00 in their seven-game postseason stretch.

In net, Andrei Vasilevskiy served as the Lightning’s starting goaltender in both the regular season and playoffs– amassing a 31-10-1 record in 42 games played (42 starts), as well as a 2.21 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and five shutouts in that span.

A Vezina Trophy Finalist for 2020-21, Vasilevskiy has previously won the award for his 2018-19 season performance.

Curtis McElhinney served as Tampa’s primary backup this season and went 4-6-2 in 12 games (12 starts) with a 3.09 goals-against average, an .875 save percentage and one shutout in that span.

Meanwhile, Christopher Gibson played in two games (two starts) for the Bolts in the regular season and went 1-1-0 with a 2.65 goals-against average and an .875 save percentage.

Entering the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, Vasilevskiy is 12-6 in 18 games (18 starts), has four shutouts and has a 1.99 goals-against average, as well as a .936 save percentage so far.

He earned his first career postseason shutout in Tampa’s, 2-0, victory over the Dallas Stars in Game 6 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final– clinching the franchise’s second Stanley Cup ring in the process– and has since become the first goaltender in NHL history to record three shutouts in three series clinching games in one postseason in the Lightning’s ongoing quest for a 2021 Stanley Cup ring.

The Montréal Canadiens overcame a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games (4-3) in the First Round, then swept the Winnipeg Jets in four games (4-0) in the Second Round before upsetting the Vegas Golden Knights in six games (4-2) in the Semifinals to make their 37th appearance in the Stanley Cup Final (including their days before the NHL’s existence).

Tyler Toffoli led the way for the Habs in the regular season in scoring with 28 goals and 16 assists (44 points) in 52 games, while Jeff Petry (12-30–42 totals in 55 games) and Nick Suzuki (15-26–41 totals in 56 games) rounded out the top-three in points on the roster for 2020-21.

Leading up to the trade deadline, Montréal added some depth and veteran experience that’s paid off with some clutch goals in their 2021 postseason run thus far.

Toffoli leads the Canadiens in playoff scoring with 5-9–14 totals in 17 games thus far, while Suzuki (5-8–13 totals in 17 games), Cole Caufield (4-5–9 totals in 15 games), Perry (3-6–9 totals in 17 games), Joel Armia (5-3–8 totals in 17 games) and Staal (2-6–8 totals in 16 games) round out the top-five in points on Montréal’s playoff roster.

In the crease, Jake Allen actually had more playing time than Carey Price in the regular season due to Price having battled a couple of injuries throughout the season.

Allen went 11-12-5 in 29 games (27 starts), amassing a 2.68 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage in the process as the expected backup for the Canadiens, while Price produced a 12-7-5 record in 25 games (25 starts), as well as one shutout, a 2.64 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage in the regular season.

Cayden Primeau appeared in four games (four starts) for the Habs and went 1-2-1 in that span, recording a 4.16 goals-against average and an .849 save percentage in the process.

Since the start of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Price has not come out of Montréal’s crease to be replaced by another goaltender and has been lights out for the Canadiens in their run to the Final.

Price has a 12-5 record in 17 games (17 starts) thus far and has recorded one shutout, as well as a 2.02 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage in that span.


The Canadiens have had no problem upsetting teams thus far in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs and– as long as they survive the first 10 minutes of each game and are able to get a lead– have been able to steal pivotal games and suck the life out of their opponents.

The Lightning have thundered their way back to the Final after winning it all last year and are capable of completely dominating games on the scoreboard and stifling the other team’s offensive production– limiting shots on goal and shot attempts in the process.

Due to the ongoing global pandemic, Monday night will be the first time these two teams have seen each other in the league’s 2020-21 calendar year.

It’ll also be the 64th unique Stanley Cup Final in league history.

Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, is in search of solidifying his place as the greatest at his job behind the bench in Tampa’s history, while Dominique Ducharme is trying to nail down the title as Montréal’s next official head coach– despite the fact that he won’t be back until Game 3 after testing positive for COVID-19 during the last series against Vegas.

Luke Richardson’s waited things out in the American Hockey League for several years and already served well as an assistant coach for the Canadiens, but continues to make a well-rounded argument for staking a claim to the Habs’ coaching job on his own.

Montréal won’t only be without Ducharme for the start of the series, however, as Armia also tested positive ahead of Game 1 for the Final and may not be available while the Canadiens are in Tampa.

UPDATE: Armia cleared COVID protocol on Monday and was en route to Tampa via a private jet and will be a game time decision for Game 1.

Not that it’s a big advantage for the Lightning, since the two teams are of great contrast in playing style thus far.

Tampa can out skate, out hit and out score their opponent.

Montréal can defend, latch on and if they’re able to withhold the sustained pressure from the Bolts (and not take any penalties) they’ll get the necessary goaltending out of Price.

That said, Vasilevskiy is equally, if not more so, locked in right now.

Both goaltenders have won the Vezina before and will be the first pair of Vezina Trophy winners to square off in the Final since the days of Dominik Hasek and Ed Belfour in, what, 1999?

The Canadiens have been on a Cinderella run, but they’re running into the Lightning– the Lightning— of all teams now.

They might have stood a chance against the Islanders, but Tampa is on another level.

That said, my recent predictions have been the wrong team, but the right number of games, so it looks like the Habs would have to be taking it all right now in five games.

But the Bolts are just too good. It’s their time to shine– as it has been for the last season already. They might not be dynasty material, but they’re pretty close to it and going back-to-back is within reach.

If they lose, it’ll be their own fault.

Tampa has something else on their side and it’s the fact that their Semifinals round lasted one game longer against New York than Montréal’s six-game series against the Golden Knights.

In recent years, the team that’s played more hockey in the round leading up to the Final has won the Final more often than not.

Just going back to 2015, both Chicago and Tampa won their Conference Finals rounds in seven games (Chicago won the Cup). In 2016, Pittsburgh advance in seven, while the San Jose Sharks won in six– the Penguins went on to win the Cup.

In 2017, it was more of the same– the Pens in seven, the Nashville Predators won in six games, but Pittsburgh won the Cup.

In 2018, the Golden Knights beat the Jets in five games, while the Washington Capitals defeated the Lightning in seven games before going on to win the Cup.

In 2019, the St. Louis Blues advanced in six games, while the Boston Bruins swept the Hurricanes. The Blues went on to win the Cup.

And in 2020, the Stars won in five games, but the Bolts advanced in six games and went on to beat Dallas in the Final.

It’s just science.

Besides, the Lightning are 2-1 in all time playoff series’ against the Canadiens, sweeping the Habs in the 2004 Eastern Conference Semifinal, losing to Montréal in four games in the 2014 First Round and beating Montréal in six games in the 2015 Second Round.

Tampa is repeating as your Stanley Cup champion in 2020 and 2021, and this time they’ll do it in five games.

Schedule:

6/28- Game 1 MTL @ TBL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

6/30- Game 2 MTL @ TBL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

7/2- Game 3 TBL @ MTL 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

7/5- Game 4 TBL @ MTL 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

7/7- Game 5 MTL @ TBL 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

7/9- Game 6 TBL @ MTL 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

7/11- Game 7 MTL @ TBL 7 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

*If necessary