June 17 — Heroes, Deadlocks & Les Habitants

On Tap For Today — Tampa Bay at NY Islanders; 8 pm EDT; USA, CBC, TVAS, SN

Wednesday’s Wheelhouse

TEACHING “HEROS”: Kevin Hodgson, executive director of HEROS (Hockey Education Reaching Out Society), was honored Wednesday as the fourth-ever recipient of the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award. Congrats to Kevin, as well as the other nominees, and thank you for all that you contribute to your communities.

SAY WHAT?: Tampa’s Pat Maroon won the NHL Fan Choice award for best mic’d up player, while Pittsburgh’s Jared McCann earned the nod for most innovative workout.

YESTERDAY’S NEWS: The worst-kept secret in the NHL was made official yesterday after the New York Rangers introduced new head coach Gerard Gallant. Welcome to the Big Apple, Gerard!

GOING STREAKING: Tyler Toffoli’s first period goal marked the eighth straight playoff game in which he has recorded a point. That’s third-best in Canadiens’ history, and with a point in Friday’s game he could tie Guy Lafleur (1977) and Larry Robinson (1978), who each recorded points in nine straight.

STEALING HOME: Montreal jumped out to a 3-0 lead in Game 2 and ultimately withstood a furious Vegas rally, winning 3-2 to even the series at one game apiece. Needless to say, Golden Knights fans did not leave saying “Yeah!”

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.

Golden Knights vs Islanders

Far from the haphazardly run organization of yesteryear, it’s clear that the New York Islanders have successfully developed a winning culture with a competent front office under GM Lou Lamoriello and a deep roster that is built to last. While hardly the only NHL team to get hoodwinked by the Vegas Golden Knights during the 2017 Expansion Draft, the Isles rightly have a bone to pick with the team that used its expansion perks to build an immediate Cup contender — some of which absolutely came at the expense of the Islanders.

In exchange for agreeing not to take Calvin de Haan, Ryan Strome, or Brock Nelson (and for absorbing the contract of Mikhail Grabovski), New York sent Vegas a 2017 first-round pick, a 2019 second-round pick, and defensive prospect Jake Bischoff. The second rounder went to Detroit in the ill-fated Tomas Tatar trade — and Bischoff remains in the organization — but the real prize was the first-round pick, which the Knights used to select Erik Brännström before flipping him in the Mark Stone trade.

Short of any real combative on-ice history between the clubs (they’ve split their mere six meetings in history), the Brännström pick serves as a pretty good point of conflict for the two possible 2021 Stanley Cup Final participants.

Without that pick, Vegas is lacking its primary trade chip used in order to land Stone — the Knights’ captain, leading scorer, and a primary force behind this year’s deep playoff run. The Islanders — who surely would have been better off letting the Knights take any of the aforementioned names – could end up watching a dominant Stone, knowing his involvement in the clubs’ shared trade history. It also doesn’t help that New York’s own captain, Anders Lee, remains out with a torn ACL.

Funny enough, some criticism of the Islanders’ protection list at the time centered on their decision to protect a little-known depth defenseman named Adam Pelech — so even in making a “mistake,” the club showed some foresight. Still, Stone’s presence as the central star on an elite Vegas team (that is also exempt from this summer’s Seattle Expansion Draft) should be all the fuel New York needs to spark some animosity between these two teams.

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.

Montreal Canadiens

Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? Teams who have a low expectation tend to have an advantage because there is the underlying motivation that favored teams may not possess. The Canadiens have been proving the naysayers wrong all postseason long, and at one point were on a seven-game winning streak. That’s right — the underdogs of these playoffs won seven games in a row. A huge reason why they have had success is their goaltender, Carey Price.  

Without Price playing the way he has this postseason, the Canadiens would have been eliminated rounds ago — it’s a fact. He is currently the clear-cut leader for the Conn Smythe Trophy. In the first two rounds he had a .935 save percentage and a 1.97 goals against average and is able to steal games for his team. 

Along with Price, the Canadiens have a balanced roster of eager rookies, experienced veterans, and a few players with a Stanley Cup already on their resume. Captain Shea Weber has been a workhorse this post season, averaging 24-26 minutes of ice time per game. Youngsters Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki are exciting to watch each time they take the ice and have a combined 13 points this postseason. Forwards Tyler Toffoli, Corey Perry, and Eric Staal have all won a Stanley Cup during their career and add a key veteran presence in the locker room. 

Marc Bergevin, Montreal Canadiens, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Montreal knows they are the underdogs of the postseason and have fully embraced that title. Since every opponent the Canadiens have faced have been heavily favored to advance, there has been very little pressure on Montreal as they continue to play with house money. This is a team that has nothing to lose and it seems like the more people who vote against them, the stronger this team becomes.  

If there is any goaltender that can carry his team to a Stanley Cup Championship, it’s Price. The last time the Stanley Cup was won by a team north of the border was in 1993 — and it was Montreal who holds that honor. At some point people need to stop betting against the Canadiens, and start believing in this Cinderella story.