Game 1 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final is now in the books, with the Tampa Bay Lightning pulling off a 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens. Here are three takeaways from Game 1 as the Lightning and Canadiens prepare for Game 2 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN / Peacock).
1. Canadiens need a better start after stumbling early in Game 1
Are shaky moments during warm-ups really bad omens? Sure, if you cherry-pick the right ones (evil cackle).
Even if you don’t put weight in those wacky warm-up moments, the Lightning scored the 1-0 goal about seven minutes into Game 1. They also made it 2-0 before Montreal showed some life.
Ideally, the Canadiens can lock things down defensively, while counter-punching with their fleet of forwards. That blueprint looks a lot shinier when they can get a 1-0 lead, or at least keep things tied.
Sure, just about every NHL team performs better with a lead. The Lightning improved to 13-2 when they’ve scored first during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, while the Canadiens are 11-2. (The Canadiens are the only one of the two teams to win a playoff game while allowing the first goal [1-3 to 0-4 for Tampa Bay].)
Stylistically, it sure seems like that might be more of a necessity for the Canadiens than the Lightning, though, right?
That argument flies if you consider the regular season, at least. The Lightning tied for second-best in the NHL by winning 14 games after allowing the first goal of a contest, while the Canadiens tied for 27th in the NHL with just five wins in those situations.
#GoHabsGo look to rally to victory from a 2-goal deficit for the first time this postseason.
Lightning have lost twice this postseason when leading by 2 goals.
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) June 29, 2021
Check out some playoff stats regarding winning a Game 1, via the NHL:
- Teams that own a 1-0 lead in a best-of-seven series in the Stanley Cup Final hold an all-time series record of 61-20 (.753).
- Teams that take a 1-0 lead in a best-of-seven series in the 2021 Playoffs hold a record of 8-6 (.571).
2. Lightning kept top scorers away from Danault in Game 1, so home-ice advantage might matter
If Game 1 is any indication, the Lightning took some notes.
At even strength, Danault only managed to face Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat for about two minutes. Meanwhile, Cooper sent Barclay Goodrow, Yanni Gourde, and Blake Coleman out against Danault for about nine minutes of even-strength time.
Early on, there might have been some frustration that Kucherov and Point didn’t do a ton of damage in Game 1, yet the Lightning collected goals from Gourde and Erik Cernak to manage a 2-1 lead through the second period.
Uh, but then Kucherov and other top Lightning players really did their damage. Kucherov generated three points in the final 20 minutes, while Brayden Point collected two.
Could this be an area where home-ice advantage plays a big role? Might this also boil down to Jon Cooper, one of the NHL’s best coaches, finding ways to outmaneuver Luke Richardson?
If so, the Canadiens would get the last chance in Game 3, 4, and (if necessary) 6. Dominique Ducharme is also expected to return by Game 3. We’ll see if the Canadiens can find ways to get Danault on the ice against Kucherov/Point more often, as that matchup mismatch could be key.
Granted, even Danault might struggle to slow down the dynamic duo of Kucherov and Point.
3. Lightning skill, power play present a different beast for Habs
On one hand, it’s probably excessive to read too much into Steven Stamkos‘ power-play goal.
Yes, that PPG ended the Canadiens’ almost-unthinkable streak of 31 consecutive successful penalty kills. But that Stamkos goal made it 5-1, so it’s fair to wonder if Montreal was playing with the sort of urgency and desperation that made them so suffocating during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
On the other hand, the Lightning present a power play that’s simply rare.
- Consider that the Maple Leafs’ power play was struggling to the point that there have been rumblings about removing Manny Malhotra, who ran that unit.
- The Jets weren’t so hot during the regular season, and that was with Mark Scheifele.
- For all of the Golden Knights’ strengths, their power play has been pretty run-of-the-mill for a while now.
The Lightning? Now they’re terrifying. Even when they didn’t score during their one non-garbage-time power play, they still looked pretty dangerous.
I haven't seen this many lateral passes through the teeth of the Canadiens' penalty kill in weeks.
— Arpon Basu (@ArponBasu) June 29, 2021
Between that deadly power play and ruthlessly efficient scoring from Kucherov and Point, the Lightning might just be a different beast for the Canadiens. While the Golden Knights challenge with quantity, the Lightning are keen on getting to those hard-to-reach areas.
Vegas had very strong puck movement in the offensive zone, the Lightning do too, but they do it significantly faster, and attack the middle much more effectively.
— Andrew Berkshire (@AndrewBerkshire) June 29, 2021
Of course, it’s also foolish to overreact to Game 1. The Canadiens found ways to beat some tough opponents during this run, and shook off a foreboding 3-1 series deficit to Toronto. The Lightning have, themselves, seen a team bounce back from losing Game 1 of a Stanley Cup Final.
This is far from over, but the Canadiens need to be a lot better to push the Lightning out of their comfort zone. Getting a better start and more favorable matchups might help them overcome the challenge of the Lightning’s sometimes monstrous-looking threat.
CANADIENS VS. LIGHTNING (TBL leads series 1-0) – series livestream link
Game 1: Lightning 5, Canadiens 1
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)