After all that, the Stanley Cup Final comes down to a four seed — and, the 18th best record in the NHL — and a three seed.
The Montreal Canadiens are the underdog of underdogs, using a path through a lesser Canadian Division then upending the team tied for most standings points in the league. The Lightning are defending champs, overlooked in the tough Central, and reloaded for the postseason.
They’ve each had their unique challenges to get through the most grueling playoffs in sports and end up in the Cup Final. The Lightning, of course, have done this before, with a similar path through the Islanders. The Canadiens haven’t been in this spot in 28 years.
It’s going to take a monumental effort for those 18th-league ranked Canadiens to beat a defending champ, but, as we’ve learned, they are not to be underestimated, and each team has some X-factors on their path to the Cup.
It kind of has to be Carey Price. The Habs goalie has led them this far, shutting down the Golden Knights and the Canadian clubs. His .934 save percentage this postseason trails just Andrei Vasilevskiy — his next goalie foe.
Everything else the Canadiens do so well stop and end with Price anyways. A killer penalty kill, smart defensive club, tons of energy on the offensive end, none of that happens without Price having a Ken Dryden-esque postseason.
The Lightning are the strongest offensive team Montreal has faced in the playoffs, though two of their opponents in Vegas and Toronto had a higher goals per game in the regular season. Price didn’t really have an issue.
Anyone who has seen Tampa this postseason though knows the regular season numbers don’t matter. Nikita Kucherov wasn’t there. Steven Stamkos missed the end of it.
If Price can take down the Lightning offense after dealing with the Leafs and Knights, too, well that’s even more impressive. There’s no reason to believe he’s going to slow down any time soon, but he’s the reason the Canadiens are here and he’ll be the reason if they win.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Canadiens opponents have had trouble beating the Canadiens defense but more importantly, Philip Danault shut down everyone. He made life difficult for Auston Matthews and Mark Stone, and, well, we’ve seen the results.
His next challenge is Brayden Point and his superpower of scoring in every playoff game and Kucherov, who has only played playoff games.
The Lightning aren’t an easy team to shut down. The Islanders, who did it so well, couldn’t do it to the Lightning. The Canadiens are a different type of shut-down team; their penalty kill difficult to penetrate, their forwards tenacious, and a goalie who will stop you anyways.
So the Lightning X-Factor is how many chances do they get. The Canadiens held down the Golden Knights had just 10 high-danger scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick, in Games 4 and 5 combined. Of their 139 scoring chances, just 49 were high-danger.
The Lightning are decent at creating chances and they have no shortage of players who can put the puck in the net. They just handled a challenging defensive Islanders team, too, so perhaps they are prepared for what the Canadiens will throw at them.
CANADIENS VS. LIGHTNING – series livestream link
Game 1: Mon. June 28: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 2: Wed. June 30: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 3: Fri. July 2: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 4: Mon. July 5: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 5: Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 6: Fri. July 9: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 7: Sun. July 11: Canadiens at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (NBC)
Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.