3 Takeaways from Game 1 of Lightning – Canadiens in Stanley Cup Final

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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).

From Brendan Gallagher‘s stumbles to Carey Price catching a shot up high, things were bumpy before Game 1 even began for the Canadiens.

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?

[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

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.

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

After falling to the Canadiens in Game 6, Golden Knights captain Mark Stone admitted he got “skunked.” Broadly speaking, Stone stunk because of the Selke-caliber stickiness of Phillip Danault.

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.

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.

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 2Wed. June 30: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 3Fri. July 2: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 4Mon. July 5: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 5Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 6Fri. July 9: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 7Sun. July 11: Canadiens at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (NBC)

*if necessary

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.