Lightning vs. Canadiens 2021 Stanley Cup Final preview

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens present us with a very unlikely Stanley Cup Final matchup. Not only because the two teams were separated by 17 points in the standings during the regular season, but because in a normal year with a normal schedule and a normal playoff format they could never even meet in this round.

On one side, we have the defending champion Lightning. A fast, skilled, experienced, playoff-tested team that has established itself as one of the league’s superpower franchises on the ice. They are loaded with All-Stars and NHL award winners all over the roster and have one of the most complete teams in the league.

On the other we side we have a Canadiens team that is playing to end a 28-year championship drought for not only their own franchise, but for an entire nation that has now put its support behind them.

It all starts on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN / Peacock) in Tampa Bay.

Here are the main storylines to watch for.

Three Storylines For The Series

1. An elite goalie matchup. At different times over the past decade Carey Price and Andrei Vasilevskiy have been considered the league’s best goalie. Price had a strong claim to that title between 2013 and 2017 when he was posting huge numbers and elevating the Canadiens to a level that was probably above their talent level at the time. He won a Vezina Trophy during that stretch and finished in the top-four of the voting two other times (including another year as a finalist).

While his play has declined over the past couple of years, he has still been magnificent in the playoffs the past few years.

Vasilevskiy is the league’s best goalie today and has been ever since he took over the starting job in Tampa Bay. He is a Vezina finalist every year, is always among the league leaders statistically, has been extremely durable, and has been incredible in big moments. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having recorded a shutout in four consecutive series-clinching wins, an NHL record.

What is remarkable about both of their postseasons this year is how identical their overall numbers have been.

  • Price: .934 all situations save percentage, .932 even-strength, .952 penalty kill, 2.02 goals against
  • Vasilevskiy: .936 all situations save percentage, .942 even-strength, .897 penalty kill, 1.98 goals against

Goalie matchups do not get much bigger than this.

[Related: How the Canadiens shocked the NHL]

2. Legacies and history. Speaking of Price, he has done just about everything a goalie can do in hockey with one big exception: The Stanley Cup.

He’s an Olympic gold medalist, has been a league leader in wins and save percentage, and is a six-time NHL All-Star. The Stanley Cup is the only thing remaining, and now, at age 33, he gets his first opportunity to play in the Cup Final. If he is able to backstop the Canadiens to one of the most improbable and unlikely championship runs it is probably the last missing piece he needs for a Hall of Fame resume.

It is a similar story for defenseman Shea Weber who is getting his first Cup Final appearance in his 16th NHL season at the age of 35. Given where they are in their careers they are not going to get many more opportunities like this in their careers.

On a team level, the Canadiens are looking to win the 25th Stanley Cup in franchise history and the first since the 1993 season. That would also end the championship drought for all of the Canadian NHL franchises.

[Stanley Cup Final Roundtable: Series difference, why each team can win]

3. Lightning going for the repeat. Whether they win this series or not the Lightning have already established themselves as the elite team in the NHL right now. Since the start of the 2014-15 season they lead the league in regular season wins, playoff wins, playoff series wins, and are playing in their third Stanley Cup Final during that stretch. Outside of that First Round sweep at the hands of Columbus two years ago (following an NHL record 62-win regular season) they are constantly going far in the playoffs. The outcome of this series will not change that.

But if they do win it and successfully defend their title, that takes them an entirely different level of success. That puts them among the all-timers as a repeat champion. Over the past three decades there have only been three other repeat champions (the Pittsburgh Penguins on two different occasions in 1991 and 1992, and then in 2016 and 2017; the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998).

Big Question For The Lightning: Can their power play solve Montreal’s penalty kill?

This is your classic unstoppable force vs. immovable object matchup.

The Lightning enter the series with a power play unit that is scoring on more than 37% of its opportunities this postseason, which is absurdly high rate for a team this deep into the playoffs. Going back over the past 20 seasons, no team that has played in at least 18 playoff games in a single postseason has ever had a power play that efficient, while only one team (the 2018-19) Bruins topped the 30 % mark (32.4). So they are clicking at a rate that no team scores at.

You take a penalty against this team, they are going to make you pay for it.

[NHL ON NBC STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

But for as dominant as the Lightning power play has been, Montreal’s penalty kill has been equally dominant.

The Canadiens enter the series having killed 93% of their penalties this postseason, a mark that would also be the best in the NHL over the past 20 years (minimum 18 games played in a single postseason). Price has been a huge part of that, but the Canadiens have also been great at suppressing shots and chances.

Something has to give here.

Big Question For The Canadiens: Can Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher shut down another star?

Danault has played 17 games for the Canadiens this postseason has yet to score a goal. He has three assists. And he is still one of the Canadiens’ most important players for his ability to help shut down each team’s opposing star forward.

In the first three series the Canadiens have limited Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Mark Stone, and Max Pacioretty to a combined four goals. All of them saw significant time against Danault and Gallagher in their series.

[Related: Stanley Cup Final X-Factors]

Together, the Danault-Gallagher duo has played more than 185 minutes of hockey together this postseason in all situations. With them on the ice the Canadiens have allowed zero goals and completely tilted the ice in their favor in terms of shot attempts, scoring chances, and expected goals. They have done all of that while being deployed in almost exclusively defensive roles (specifically defensive zone starts to shifts). During the regular season the Canadiens outscored teams by a 23-7 margin with that duo on the ice during 5-on-5 play and, again, controlled the game territorially. They have been magnificent. They are almost certainly going to get tested again with Point and Kucherov.

Potential Impact Player To Watch For Lightning: Brayden Point

It probably goes without saying right now that Point is the player to watch given his historic post season goal scoring.

He enters the series with 14 goals in 18 games, and is leading the league in postseason goal scoring for the second year in a row. For his career he already has 36 goals in 62 playoff games, a goal scoring pace that puts him among the giants of the games.

Potential Impact Player To Watch For Canadiens: Cole Caufield

Carey Price is the player driving this run. Tyler Toffoli has been their most consistent player all season. Nick Suzuki is going to be a franchise cornerstone. Phillip Danault is the shutdown guy. All of them are playing an essential role. Caufield, though, can be the player that changes a game or a series. He has that sort of potential and has shown it quite often since joining the team late in the season. He has quickly become one of the Canadiens’ most dangerous offensive players and has at least one point in seven of their past eight games. He also has a goal in four of the past six games.

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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    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

    Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
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    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

    Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

    L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

    Kris Letang Penguins
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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

    For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

    The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

    “I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

    The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

    Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    “He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

    Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

    “I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

    Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

    Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

    “First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

    Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

    The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

    “The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

    Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

    “It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

    Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

    Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

    Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

    “It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

    Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

    Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

    “Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

    The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

    “I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

    Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

    Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

    “On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

    The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

    “It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

    It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

    “(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

    Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

    “It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

    NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.

    UP NEXT

    Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

    Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.

    Deal for Coyotes’ proposed arena approved by Tempe council

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports
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    TEMPE, Ariz. — The Tempe City Council has unanimously approved a proposal for a new Arizona Coyotes arena and entertainment district, clearing the way for a public vote on the project next year.

    The City Council approved the proposal 7-0 after a lengthy meeting that included NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

    The $2.1 billion project would include a 16,000-seat arena, practice rink, 1,600 apartments, two hotels and a theater. Approval of the project was the final step before it goes to referendum on May 16.

    The team is currently playing at Arizona State’s 5,000-seat Mullett Arena, by far the NHL’s smallest arena.

    The Coyotes have been searching for a permanent home since the city of Glendale pulled out of a multimillion-dollar lease at Gila River Arena. Arizona had been playing on an annual lease until Glendale said it would not be renewed for the 2022-23 season.