The defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning are favored to repeat as Stanley Cup champions when they battle the gritty Montreal Canadiens beginning on Monday night.
Tampa Bay has fought and clawed its way to its second straight appearance in the final but will face a Montreal team that has surprised on more than one occasion to reach the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.
Can the loaded Lightning get it done one more time this postseason to become the league’s first repeat champs since Pittsburgh pulled off the feat in 2016 and 2017? Could the speedy Canadiens pull off another upset after stunning a Vegas Golden Knights team in the last round that many had winning it all this postseason?
NHL Series Odds
Montreal Canadiens +225
Tampa Bay Lightning -265
Montreal Canadiens, by the Numbers
In 17 postseason contests, Montreal is averaging 2.53 goals per game (11th) on 29.1 shots (13th). The Habs finished the regular season ranked 17th in scoring (2.8 GPG) on 31.2 shots per game (7th).
Defensively, the Canadiens are limiting the opposition to just 2.18 goals per contest defensively (3rd) on 31.3 shots (9th). In the regular season, the Canadiens limited the opposition to 2.9 goals per game (19th) on 28.2 shots per contest (8th).
Net-minder Carey Price has started all 17 games between the pipes for Montreal while recording a 2.02 goals-against-average.
First-year Montreal head coach Dominique Ducharme tested positive for COVID-19 just over a week ago but should be out of the protocols and able to return to the bench for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Ducharme, 48, took over the Canadiens on Feb. 24 after the firing of Claude Julien. The Canadiens were 9-5-4 at the time and finished the regular season at 24-21-11
Montreal Special Teams
This postseason, the Canadiens rank fifth in playoff power-play goals with nine while ranking seventh in power-play success (20.9%). Montreal has allowed only three power-play goals defensively this postseason (T-2).
Tampa Bay Lightning, by the Numbers
In 18 playoff games, Tampa Bay is averaging 3.22 goals per game (2nd) on only 29.8 shots per contest (12th). Defensively, the Lightning are limiting the opposition to just 2.06 goals per contest defensively (2nd) on 31.1 shots per contest (9th).
The Lightning finished the regular season ranked eighth in scoring (3.2 GPG) on 30.2 shots per contest (9th). Defensively, Tampa Bay finished seventh in goals allowed (2.6 GPG) while giving up 28.3 shots per contest (10th).
Tampa Bay Goalies
Superstar goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is 12-6 this postseason with a phenomenal 1.99 goals-against-average while starting every game.
Tampa Bay Coaching
Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper led the Lightning to the Stanley Cup title last year and has guided the team to the playoffs seven times in nine years behind the bench with two division titles. Cooper is 384-197 in his career and 54-39 in the postseason.
Tampa Bay Special Teams
This postseason, the Lightning rank first in playoff power-play goals with 20 while ranking second in power-play success (37.7%). Defensively, Tampa Bay has allowed nine power-play goals (T-12).
These two didn’t meet in this season’s division-only format, but Tampa Bay has won four straight and nine of the last 10 meetings overall.
The Canadiens are 0-6 in the last 6 meetings in Tampa Bay.
The Canadiens are 0-4 in the last 4 meetings.
The Under is 5-2 in the last 7 meetings in Tampa Bay.
Home team is 5-2 in the last 7 meetings.
Favorite is 14-3 in the last 17 meetings.
The Under is 5-1 in the last 6 meetings.
Coming into this season, Tampa Bay was one of the favorites to repeat as Stanley Cup champions and the Lightning haven’t disappointed. While Montreal was fantastic in dispatching Toronto in seven games and swept overmatched Winnipeg via a four-game sweep.
The Canadiens then got past a powerful Vegas Golden Knights team in six games, winning two games in overtime by the identical score of 3-2, including Game 6 on Thursday.
Tampa Bay got past feisty Florida in six games in the opening round and dispatched Carolina in five games. The Lightning then went the distance against a gritty New York Islanders team in seven games, winning the series finale 1-0 on Friday night.
The Lightning will have their hands full against a Montreal team that has far exceeded expectations but ultimately, the Lightning are the statistically better team at both ends of the ice and the far more experienced team as well, having won it all just a year ago.
Tampa Bay has the league’s top four scorers in the playoffs in Nikita Kucherov (27 points), Brayden Point (20 points), Alex Kilorn (17 points) and Steven Stamkos (17 points). Point has scored a stunning 14 goals, with Kilorn tied for second with eight goals and Stamkos, fifth with seven goals.
Not only does Tampa Bay have the big edge in offensive firepower, but the Lightning have the edge in goal with Andrei Vasilevskiy being arguably the best in the business and Montreal’s Carey Price just a cut below.
Montreal will put up a fight, but I can’t see the Canadiens winning more than two games, if that. Tampa Bay wins it all to pull off the repeat.