The most intriguing aspect of the NHL’s one-year divisional alignment and playoff format for the 2020-21 season was the possibility of a Stanley Cup Final matchup that you could not see in a normal year.
An East vs. East matchup. A West vs. West matchup. Even two teams from the same division.
As it turns out, that is exactly the matchup we are getting with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens facing off starting on Monday.
The two teams have played in the same conference since the Lightning’s second year in the NHL (1993-94 season) and have been in the same division (the Atlantic Division) since the 2013-14 season. They will return to that same division next season. That has always made it impossible for them to play each other for the Stanley Cup. But because the NHL had to shuffle its divisions and playoff format this season to allow for an all-Canadian division, they now get to face off in the Stanley Cup Final.
[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
And out of all of the potentially unique Stanley Cup Final matchups that could have taken place this season, this one was probably one of the unlikeliest.
Tampa Bay’s presence in this round is not really a surprise. They have been one of the league’s elite teams for nearly a decade now, are the defending Stanley Cup champions, and have been in at least Game 7 of the semifinals five times in the past seven years.
Montreal, though, was given almost zero chance this season, and even into the playoffs where they entered with the 18th best record in the league and were heavy underdogs in each of their first three series.
[Related: How the Montreal Canadiens shocked the NHL]
Just as a refresher on how we ended up with this matchup in this temporary playoff format…
- The league was split into four different divisions, including the North Division that featured all seven of the league’s Canadian teams. Teams only played their divisional opponents during the 56-game regular season.
- The top four teams in each division made the playoffs and played each other in a 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 bracket.
- The four teams that advanced from those divisional playoffs made the semifinals and were re-seeded one through four based on their regular season records. That presented the possibility of an an all East or all West Stanley Cup Final.
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)
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.