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.
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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)