Stanley Cup Final Roundtable: Series difference; why Canadiens, Lightning will win

What will be the biggest difference in the Stanley Cup Final?

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: The question right now isn’t whether Montreal can slow the Lightning’s offensive depth. It’s whether Tampa Bay’s weapons can breakthrough against the Canadiens. What the Habs have done to opposing stars is no fluke. We have three rounds worth of evidence. It was the William Nylander and Jason Spezza show for the Maple Leafs in the First Round because Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner could not lead the way. Pierre-Luc Dubois, Blake Wheeler, and Kyle Connor couldn’t do much with Mark Scheifele already out in the Second Round. Mark Stone, “The Misfit Line,” and Max Pacioretty were kept pretty quiet with a trip to the Cup Final on the line.

So, good luck to the Lightning against Phillip Danault and co.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Montreal has done a number on every star play it has faced in the playoffs, but Tampa Bay is going to present an entirely new challenge due to its depth. Against Toronto, they didn’t have to worry about John Tavares. Against Winnipeg, they didn’t have to worry about Mark Scheifele. While Vegas is a great team, the lack of center depth was a big Achilles heel. In all of those matchups if the Canadiens were able to shut down the star (which they did every time) there was not really anybody else that was going to make a difference. Tampa Bay has an entire team of difference makers, and even if you by some chance limit Nikita Kucherov or Brayden Point, there is a Yanni Gourde, an Anthony Cirelli, a Blake Coleman, or that Steven Stamkos guy (who is still pretty good!) that are waiting for the opportunity. Tampa Bay’s depth will be the difference in this series.

Marisa Ingemi, NHL writer: Special teams. The way the Canadiens shut down the Vegas power play was huge. The Golden Knights already had some man advantage issues with Colorado but Montreal fully exposed them. Meanwhile, the Lightning power play has been vital to their run. The winner of the series might come down to that specific matchup.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Tampa Bay’s championship pedigree. Effectively the entire roster is back from last year’s Cup winning squad. Montreal has been playing great team hockey but the Lightning have proven they have a unique combination of skill, grit, and experience.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: The Lightning’s high-end talent should get them over the hump — assuming they can play. In other words, the alternate answer could be “health.”

Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: The biggest difference will be the depth of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The series will be close as the Canadiens are a similar team to the New York Islanders who pushed the Lightning to seven games, but unless Carey Price is able to stand on his head, the Lightning should prevail. There is too much scoring on all four Tampa Bay lines at this time. It will be interesting to see if Mikhail Sergachev is a difference maker, as Tampa Bay acquired him from Montreal for Jonathan Drouin, who is out for the remainder of the season. The Lightning are strong up and down their lineup, and while Vegas was as well, and Montreal still beat them in six games, Tampa Bay is just a bit stronger.


Stanley Cup Final
Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

2. Finish these sentences:

The Canadiens will win the series if…

The Lightning will win the series if…

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Everybody is going to say something relating to Carey Price and, quite honestly, it is not wrong. But really it is just about goaltending in general. Montreal will win if Price plays out of his mind, or if Andrei Vasilevskiy shows any kind of a crack, which does not happen often. While the Lightning are back in the Stanley Cup Final again this year’s run does not seem quite as dominant as a year ago. They have needed Vasilevskiy to win some games for them a little more frequently than they have before. As long as he plays the way he has, that is fine. But if he has a couple of off days, maybe that swings things.

The Lightning path to winning is a little more straight forward: Stay healthy, play their game, get good goaltending. On paper this is one of the most talented teams in the league, and on the ice they go deep into the playoffs every year. It is the most successful team in the league over the past seven years and they have everything you want to see a Stanley Cup winner have.

Marisa Ingemi, NHL writer: The Canadiens will win the series if Carey Price goes off. It’s the boring answer but it’s the right answer. He’s why they’re here in the first place and he’s won them so many games. If he stands on his head this team might actually pull it off, and, well, he’s been standing on his head all playoffs.

The Lightning will win the series if their best players aren’t shut down. Montreal has done a solid job shutting down elite forwards. The Lightning have a lot of them. One of the reasons they’ve done so well is on nights Stamkos isn’t on Kucherov is, or Point in every game, apparently. As long as the offense doesn’t go dark like Vegas, the Lightning have a good shot.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: The Canadiens will win the series if Carey Price plays the series of his life. The Lightning will win the series if they stay healthy.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: The Canadiens will win the series if Price outplays Vasilevskiy, and the deep Habs grind the Lightning into mush. The Lightning will win the series if the goalie duel is more or less a wash, and their power play dents the astonishingly efficient Canadiens PK.

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Montreal will win if Carey Price can continue to be a plus-.930 goaltender for another round and if their ability to quiet opposing stars continues. Tampa Bay will win if the Canadiens can keep them off the power play on a regular basis. Montreal was able to shut down the Golden Knights, but the Lightning man advantage unit is something special, especially now that Nikita Kucherov appears to be fine.

Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Montreal will win the series if Carey Price is sensational and Cole Caufield is a star. Tampa Bay will win the series if they play as well as they are capable of playing.

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)

*if necessary

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    Golden Knights take 2-0 lead in Stanley Cup Final with 7-2 win over Panthers

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS – Jonathan Marchessault scored twice and started an early blitz that chased the NHL’s hottest postseason goalie, and the Vegas Golden Knights seized control of the Stanley Cup Final with a 7-2 victory over the Florida Panthers in Game 2 on Monday night.

    Adin Hill continued his stellar play in net with 29 saves for the Golden Knights, who grabbed a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

    “We finished some plays,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It’s a good performance for us. Our guys were ready to play.”

    Marchessault also had an assist to finish with three points. His 12 postseason goals set a Golden Knights record, with all coming after the first round.

    Brett Howden scored twice for the Knights, who also got goals from Alec Martinez, Nicolas Roy and Michael Amadio. Six players had at least two points for Vegas, all 18 Knights skaters were on the ice for even-strength goals and their nine goal scorers through the first two games are a Stanley Cup Final record. The Knights’ seven goals tied a franchise mark for a playoff game.

    It was too much for Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who was removed 7:10 into the second period down 4-0. It was the fifth time in 12 games the Knights have chased the opposing goalie.

    “We can be a little better in front of our goaltender,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “I got him out to keep him rested.”

    Matthew Tkachuk and Anton Lundell scored for Florida.

    Teams that take a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final are 31-3 in the expansion era. The Panthers will try to buck history beginning with Game 3 on Thursday in Sunrise, Florida.

    Hill once again brought his feistiness as well as his A-game. He stopped Carter Verhaeghe on a breakaway in the first, and later that period hit Tkachuk, who was in his net, with his blocker and then slashed him with his stick.

    “He’s been unreal for us,” Vegas forward William Carrier said. “He’s been unbelievable.”

    The Knights were dominant early, taking a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Marchessault and Martinez. It was Vegas’ third game in a row with a power-play goal, its first such stretch since Christmas week.

    The Panthers lost their biggest, toughest defenseman early in the game when Radko Gudas was injured on a hit by Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev. Gudas left 6:39 in and did not return.

    That was one of several big hits by Barbashev, the Golden Knights’ biggest trade-deadline acquisition, a Stanley Cup champion with St. Louis in 2019. Barbashev broke the sternum of Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard during the playoffs last year, also on a clean hit.

    Vegas had its own scare late in the second period when Jack Eichel was nailed in the right shoulder by Tkachuk. Eichel returned in the third and set up Marchessault’s second goal for his second assist of the game.

    “We did a good job managing momentum tonight,” Eichel said. “And we got some timely goals.”

    Ducks hire former Leafs, Islanders assistant Greg Cronin as head coach

    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks have hired veteran NHL assistant and AHL head coach Greg Cronin to be their new head coach.

    Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek announced the decision to hire the 60-year-old Cronin, who will be a first-time NHL head coach.

    Cronin has 12 years of experience as an NHL assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs and in two stints with the New York Islanders. The Massachusetts native has been the head coach of the AHL’s Colorado Eagles since 2018, and he spent six years as a collegiate head coach at Northeastern.

    Verbeek called Cronin “the ideal fit” to take over a young, rebuilding team.

    “I felt we needed a teacher of the finer points of the game, and someone who has worked extensively over time with talented young players, helping them develop into successful NHL players,” Verbeek said. “Greg has done all that and more.”

    Cronin replaces Dallas Eakins, whose contract wasn’t renewed in April after the Ducks finished their fourth consecutive losing season of his tenure. Anaheim finished in last place in the overall NHL standings at 23-47-12.

    The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They’ve missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the NHL’s worst defensive team of the 21st century by several measures during the just-completed season.

    Cronin takes over a struggling team that is still loaded with young talent, including the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft and a wealth of farm prospects seemingly ready to break into the NHL. Anaheim has a solid long-term base with playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and promising forward Mason McTavish.

    Cronin has never led an NHL bench, but he interviewed for the Boston Bruins’ vacancy a year ago.

    He becomes only the Ducks’ fourth permanent head coach since Henry and Susan Samueli bought the franchise from Disney in 2005, joining Randy Carlyle, Bruce Boudreau and Eakins.

    Canadiens sign Cole Caufield to 8-year, $62.8 million extension

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

    MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens signed Cole Caufield to an eight-year, $62.8 million contract extension.

    The deal, which will pay the 22-year-old winger an average annual salary of $7.85 million, runs through the 2030-31 season.

    Caufield scored 26 goals and added 10 assists in 46 games in 2022-23 before he underwent season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in February.

    Despite missing nearly half the season, Caufield led the Canadiens in goals for the second consecutive season, tied with Nick Suzuki.

    Montreal selected Caufield in the first round (15th overall) of the 2019 draft.

    Since making his NHL debut in 2020-21, the forward has 84 points (53 goals, 31 assists) in 123 NHL games.

    Vegas Golden Knights come back to beat Florida Panthers in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS – Back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in five years and trailing the Florida Panthers less than 10 minutes into Game 1, the Vegas Golden Knights sent a very clear message.

    “We were ready,” Jonathan Marchessault said.

    Ready and dominant. Vegas rallied from an early deficit, got the go-ahead goal from Zach Whitecloud with just over 13 minutes left and arguably the best save of the playoffs from Adin Hill and beat Florida 5-2 Saturday night to take the lead in the best-of-seven series.

    “We kept out composure, and it was good,” said Marchessault, one of six original Knights players left from the start of the franchise in 2017 who scored the tying goal in the first period. “We just wanted to play the right way and be disciplined, and tonight we were able to be the better team.”

    Whitecloud put Vegas ahead, a crucial penalty kill followed and captain Mark Stone scored an insurance goal that was reviewed for a high stick and confirmed. Reilly Smith sealed it with an empty-netter to make the score look more lopsided than the game.

    The combination of that offense and Hill’s 33 saves put Vegas up after a feisty opener between Sun Belt teams who wasted little time getting acquainted with big hits during play and plenty of post-whistle pushing and shoving.

    “It’s exactly what we expected,” said Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore, who scored his first goal of the playoffs and ended a 27-game drought dating to March 7. “That’s how they wanted to play. We were just trying not to play into it.”

    That stuff is just beginning. Game 2 is Monday in Las Vegas.

    Before the Panthers even get a chance to respond, they ratcheted up the physical play late after falling behind by two. A handful of penalties resulting from a fracas with 4:24 remaining left the Florida bench well short.

    The outcome was determined long before that.

    After falling behind on a short-handed goal by Eric Staal that sucked the life out of the crowd of 18,432, the Golden Knights rallied for their ninth comeback win this playoffs. Marchessault – known since arriving in Las Vegas for scoring big goals – answered before the end of the first period.

    Early in the second, Hill made a desperation stick save to rob Nick Cousins of what would have been a sure goal. The save was reminiscent of the one Washington’s Braden Holtby made against Vegas – in the same crease – five years ago.

    “That’s an unreal save – it’s a game-changer,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “You need those saves at key moments.”

    Giving up a tying goal to Anthony Duclair with 10.2 seconds left in the second did not slow the Golden Knights’ momentum much. Whitecloud’s goal, with two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky screened and unable to see, fired up fans once again.

    Bobrovsky, in the final for the first time, downplayed any reason for concern after stopping 29 of 34 shots and losing for just the second time in 12 games this postseason.

    “I played a good game,” Bobrovsky said. “I played a solid game. They created some good chances other than goals. They had lots of good scoring chances, and that was fun.”

    Part of the fun came when play was stopped.

    Less than 10 minutes in, Hill was none too happy about Nick Cousins crashing into his crease and gave the agitating Panthers winger a jab that incited a handful of scrums. During the second period, Matthew Tkachuk let Vegas’ Nic Hague know he wasn’t thrilled about a hit in the corner on Cousins and a collision with Brandon Montour after the whistle.

    “If guys are going to come in my crease and try to push me around, I’m going to stand my own ground,” Hill said. “I’m not going to do anything too crazy or get too wild, but, yeah, I’ve got to stand up for myself.”

    Florida coach Paul Maurice, back in the final for the first time since 2001, displayed a similarly calm demeanor as he did all the way back in the first round, when his team fell behind 1-0 then 3-1 to NHL-best Boston before winning in seven.

    “It’s going to be tight,” Maurice said. “Everybody breathe.”

    The Golden Knights are in the final for the second time in six years of existence, five years after making it in their inaugural season. Vegas won the opener in 2018 and lost the series to Washington in five games.

    The Panthers are back playing for the Cup for the first time since 1996. Florida got swept by Colorado in that final 27 years ago, 18 months before Tkachuk, the team’s leading scorer this playoffs, was born.

    It’s the 66th different matchup of teams in the Cup final in NHL history and the 46th since the expansion era began in 1967-68. This is the first time since Washington-Vegas and just the third time since the turn of the century in which the final features two teams who have never won the league’s championship.