On Tap For Today — Montreal at Tampa Bay 8 pm EDT; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS, SN
BACK TO THE FINAL: Tampa Bay triumphed 1-0 over the Islanders in a Game 7 nail-biter, earning a trip to the Stanley Cup Final for the second consecutive season. Game 1 against Montreal is tonight.
ANDREI ON POINT: Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is now tied with Nikolai Khabibulin and Ben Bishop for the most postseason shutouts in Tampa Bay history, with five. All of those have come within his last 19 playoff games.
WELCOME BACK: Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme indicated he expects to be back behind the bench for Game 3 of the Final, this after entering protocol because of a positive COVID-19 test on June 18. He missed the final four games of the semifinal round against Vegas.
GOLDEN METTLE: Vegas defenseman Alec Martinez told reporters during exit interviews that he skated on a broken foot for most (if not all) of the playoffs, averaging over 22 minutes each game in the process. Hockey players, amirite?
REPEAT: Team USA won its second consecutive gold medal in the World Para Ice Hockey Championships, defeating Canada 5-1 in the gold medal game on Saturday. The US, ranked No. 1 in the world, has made the podium at every World Championships since 2004.
ARMIA ENTERS PROTOCOL: Though the news on Ducharme was great, Montreal announced forward Joel Armia has been placed in COVID-19 protocol, and did not travel with the team for Monday’s Game 1 against Tampa Bay. He has five goals in 17 games this postseason.
NAILED IT: Check out this amazing depiction of Bobby Orr’s iconic goal, comprised entirely of nails and string. Incredible!
Stanley Cup Final X Factors
Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final will grace our screens tonight, and it is a series few, if any, predicted — as the defending champions will be battling the team that finished the regular season 18th in the standings.
With the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens each four wins away from hoisting the greatest trophy in all of sports, we can expect the spotlight to shine bright on goaltenders Carey Price and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Both have a Vezina Trophy on their resume, and it will be the premier goaltending battle that has been missing from the Final since Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy met in 2001. While most outlets will be talking about how the goalies can lead their teams, there are other players who could be considered X factors for their respective teams.
Montreal Canadiens X Factor: Tyler Toffoli
Was there a better free agent signing than Tyler Toffoli? He plays on the second line with youngsters Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, and leads all Canadiens with 14 points this postseason. Along with Corey Perry and Eric Staal, Toffoli has a Stanley Cup ring and adds invaluable playoff experience to the roster.
He has had big moments since the first round, and scored two game-winning goals — including an overtime goal that clinched the series — against the Winnipeg Jets. The 6-foot-1 forward has been all over the ice, and has scored on the power play, short handed, and leads the team with five even-strength goals.Toffoli brings experience, strength, and compliments his young linemates nicely.
Tampa Bay Lightning X Factor: Brayden Point
No offensive player is on more of a hot streak than Brayden Point right now. He scored in nine consecutive games before being held off the scoresheet in Game 7 against the Islanders, and currently has the hot hand for the Bolts. The Lightning forward has an ability to score goals from tight angles and has proven difficult for defenders to match up against. Point is going into the Stanley Cup Final with 14 goals, which leads all players this postseason.
As it stands, Point is making a very good case to take home the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. He has been dominant since the postseason began, and his nine-game goal streak was one shy of tying Reggie Leach for the NHL record. His teammates have given him the nickname “Mr. Clutch” and it suits the 25-year-old — who has three game-winning goals. The entire Lightning roster clearly has Stanley Cup experience, but Point brings speed, determination, and a wicked shot that will prove challenging for the Montreal Canadiens.
David, Meet Goliath
By now, the Canadiens are no stranger to assuming the underdog role. They began the postseason by digging out of a 3-1 hole against the Toronto Maple Leafs — the No. 1 seed in the Scotia North Division. Then they swept the Winnipeg Jets, before handling their business against the No. 2 seed in the Honda West Division, the Vegas Golden Knights — whose 82 points were tied with the top-seeded Colorado Avalanche.
Now, to complete their unlikely, fairy tale journey, all the 59-point Habs need to do is knock off the defending champion Lightning, who cruised to a 75-point regular season — and then added former Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov to an already-stacked lineup. So even as Montreal has silenced doubters along the way, their greatest challenge — and the only thing standing between them and the Stanley Cup — awaits.
While the respective status of the two Stanley Cup Final competitors makes for a pretty staggering matchup, and a heavy betting favorite, this isn’t the first lopsided Final we’ve seen. While some of these series went the way they were pretty much expected to go, others offer a bit of hope for the fans of the surging Canadiens.
1999: Dallas Stars vs Buffalo Sabres
While the 1999 Final between Dallas and Buffalo is best remembered for Brett Hull’s infamous foot-in-the-crease triple overtime Cup winner, it also marked a fascinating David vs Goliath story. You had the loaded Presidents’ Trophy-winning Stars against a Sabres squad that finished with the seventh-best record in the Eastern Conference — but boasted a potent weapon in all-world goaltender Dominik Hasek.
After knocking off the Ottawa Senators, Boston Bruins, and Maple Leafs (six of their 12 wins came by one goal), Buffalo shocked Dallas in Game 1 and later knotted the series up 2-2. However, even Hasek could not entirely make up for a team that scored only nine goals over six games. Then again, if Hull’s winner had been waved off in Game 6, who knows what would have happened!
2002: Detroit Red Wings vs Carolina Hurricanes
For the Carolina Hurricanes, you could say that the original rag tag “bunch of jerks” might have been back in 2002. Benefiting from a woefully weak Southeast Division, the Canes finished third as division champs despite a record that would have given them the seventh-best overall record in the East. Nonetheless, Carolina still managed to churn out six-game victories over the New Jersey Devils, Canadiens, and Maple Leafs to set up a Final with the Detroit Red Wings.
The Red Wings — whose 116-point season gave them 25 points more than the Hurricanes — were in the midst of a dynastic period and boasted a whopping nine future Hall of Famers, a Hall of Fame coach, and a young Pavel Datsyuk — who will likely wind up in the Hall as well. In contrast, Carolina was led by a 38-year-old Ron Francis and 34-year-old netminder Artūrs Irbe. No wonder that the series lasted only five games.
1938: Chicago Black Hawks vs Toronto Maple Leafs
Habs fans, I offer you some cause for optimism in the form of the incredible 1938 Black Hawks. Back in what was a 48-game NHL season, Chicago finished the regular season with a 14-25-9 record. The Red Wings were, mercifully, two points worse, meaning the Hawks squeezed into a playoff spot. From there, they went full-blown Cinderella mode with wins over the Canadiens, New York Americans, and Maple Leafs to become what is widely thought to be the worst “Big Four” team to ever win their league championship.
In true underdog fashion, the Cup win over Toronto wasn’t without its own histrionics. An injury to starting goalie Mike Karakas forced the Black Hawks to put minor league goalie Alfie Moore between the pipes in Game 1. Moore stymied the Leafs for a 3-1 win — beginning a tradition of emergency backup goaltenders excelling against the Blue and White.
No, Montreal isn’t the 1938 Hawks, but they are still far from your typical Cup finalist — having earned the league’s 18th-best regular season record. Of course, the last month has demonstrated the limits to which the regular season really matters come playoff time. The next seven games will determine if the Habs are set to write a new, remarkable chapter 83 years later.
Please join us in a moment of silence for these recently eliminated teams – gone, but never forgotten. We can’t wait until we meet again (the 2021-22 season, of course!), but for now we’ll take this opportunity to reflect on a their brief — but memorable — playoff run.
New York Islanders
Dates Active: 1/14/21 – 6/25/21
Cause of Death: Sting from an extremely sharp Point.
Last Words: This is truly shocking.