June 16 — Bolts, Forecasts & Oskar Strong

On Tap For Today — Montreal at Vegas; 6 pm PDT; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS, SN

Tuesday’s Toe Drags

TRULY INSPIRING: No quips here — congrats to the Flyers’ Oskar Lindblom, who was undergoing radiation therapy just one year ago, for winning the 2020-21 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for his perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey. Absolutely remarkable and heartwarming!

PUCK AND BEANS: Boston topped Wallethub’s recently released 2021 best cities for hockey fans, but you should check out the entire list — a few of the more hockey-friendly cities may surprise you.

PERFECT 10: Brayden Point scored his 10th postseason goal in Tampa’s 4-2 win over New York yesterday, doing it in only 13 games. That’s tied for 10th-fastest since 1996, alongside Michael Cammalleri and Wayne Gretzky.

HE’S THE (HED)MAN: Victor Hedman’s goal was his ninth postseason goal against the Islanders, moving him into a tie for fifth place on the NHL’s list of most playoff goals vs a single franchise. Bobby Orr leads the way with 12 goals against the Rangers.

Cup Final Forecast

As the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Islanders, Vegas Golden Knights, and Montreal Canadiens all battle for a berth in the Stanley Cup Final, we inch closer to learning the identity of the two teams that will cap off an unconventional 2020-21 NHL season. In this segment, we look at the possible matchups that may await as the playoff field narrows down to the final two.

Canadiens vs Lightning / Canadiens vs Islanders

Let’s get real here — of the two semifinal series taking place right now, the tied TBL/NYI series seems considerably more even than the 1-0 VGK/MTL clash. With that in mind, we begin with what appears to be the more unlikely of scenarios: Montreal advancing to vie for the franchise’s 25th Stanley Cup.

So, what would these two series look like?

Canadiens vs Lightning

We won’t claim to have any insight into the Jonathan Drouin situation beyond what Blain Potvin covered in his recent article on the subject, but the Cup Final would be an incredible time for him to return. Under this scenario, he’d have the opportunity to play his former team, the defending Stanley Cup champions. Whether or not Drouin participates in this hypothetical series, much of the focus will still be placed on the 2017 trade that brought him to Montreal for Mikhail Sergachev.

While Drouin has been a solid contributor for Montreal, Sergachev is blossoming into a star in Tampa — while somehow having not yet celebrated his 23rd birthday. The Russian blueliner recorded 30 points in 56 games from the back end this season while logging nearly 22 minutes of ice time a night. He has also exhibited a bit of bad blood toward his former organization, dropping the gloves with Habs defenseman Shea Weber last season.

Should this showdown come to pass, it would also give Montreal a chance to straighten out a rough recent history against the Lightning. Montreal has only won twice in the past 13 meetings between these two clubs. Of course, a clash in the Final would mean far more than any one of those 13 regular season contests. Not to mention Josh Anderson, a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets that swept a stunned Lightning team in the first round of the 2019 playoffs, could provide some pointers to turn the tides for the Canadiens.

Canadiens vs Islanders

Hockey fans of a certain age would surely get a kick out of seeing two franchises that essentially traded dynasties in the 1970s and 1980s face off. After Montreal beat the Islanders twice in the playoffs en route to four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1976 to 1979, the Isles turned the tables with four straight Cup wins of their own.

Apart from the historic implications, this would be a compelling series between two gritty and tough teams. Corey Perry and Josh Anderson would surely never shy away from mixing it up with the likes of Leo Komarov, Matt Martin, or Adam Pelech. Interestingly, one area where the underdog Habs would hold a distinct advantage is in net — while Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin have both performed perfectly well for the Isles, Carey Price has once again elevated himself to another level.

Neither one of these series look particularly compelling for a Cup Final, but the good news (for non-Habs fans, anyway) is that Montreal looks as though they are finally in over their heads during the 2021 playoffs. In all likelihood, it will be Vegas moving on, achieving their second Cup Final appearance in four years. However, if the Habs can somehow do the impossible, they’ve got their own storylines to see play out.

Check back tomorrow for more potential Stanley Cup Final Forecasts

How They Can Win the Cup

With the NHL down to the final four teams competing for a chance to win the Stanley Cup, we thought we would take a look at how each team can complete their run.

Tampa Bay Lightning

You can never count out the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Tampa Bay virtually has the same roster as when they hoisted the Cup on September 28, 2020 and are poised for a repeat. Coming into this shortened season they were a favorite and it is obvious why — they have experience, a dangerous power play, and Victor Hedman leading their defensive core. 

As any team that has made a deep playoff run can tell you, postseason experience can be a huge advantage. The majority of Tampa’s roster has been here before and know what needs to be done to win a Cup. They have impressive forward depth, and the third line of Barclay Goodrow, Yanni Gourde, and Blake Coleman are picking up right where they left off last postseason. Not only are they familiar with the quest for the Cup, they are also familiar with their current opponent, the New York Islanders.

Yanni Gourde, Tampa Bay Lightning (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The most lethal aspect of the Lightning’s game is undoubtedly their power play, which currently has a success rate of 42.1%, as half of their goals during these playoffs have come when Tampa is on the man advantage. Opponents need to be extremely disciplined if they want any chance of winning. Even though the Saints Islanders are one of the least penalized teams in the league, Tampa has scored a power play goal in each game so far this series.

Hedman, the Lightning’s alternate captain, can usually be found quarterbacking his team’s power play. The 6-foot-6 defenseman won the Conn Smythe less than a year ago, and his presence and leadership on the ice continue to make his team better — especially his goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The Lightning have all the tools necessary for a repeat. Nikita Kucherov leads all players with 22 points, Vasilevskiy has a .933 save percentage — even more impressive when you consider he has faced 434 shots this postseason — and captain Steven Stamkos is healthy and ready to bring the Cup back to Tampa.

I mean, who doesn’t want to see another Stanley Cup boat parade?