The 2021 Stanley Cup Final begins Monday night in Tampa Bay (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN / Peacock) between the Lightning and Montreal Canadiens.
We get you ready for the action with three keys to Game 1 of the series.
1. Danault and Gallagher vs. Point and Kucherov
Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty are six of the best offensive players in the league. They combined to score four goals in 17 games against the Canadiens through the first three rounds of the playoffs.
They combined to score zero goals in their head to head minutes (roughly 100 minutes) against the Montreal duo of Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. You can be sure Montreal is going to try its best to get that matchup against Tampa Bay’s top line of Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov.
The ability of Danault and Gallagher to neutralize the oppositions top offensive stars and has been a major factor in Montreal’s shocking run to the Stanley Cup Final, and they have perhaps their biggest test yet still ahead of them.
During the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons when these two teams played head-to-head those four went head-to-head semi regularly, with Kucherov and Point managing just a single goal while Danault and Gallagher tilted the ice in Montreal’s favor in terms of shots and chances.
That duo is a nightmare for opposing star forwards.
2. Special teams
A lot of this depends on how many penalties actually get called, but both teams have a special teams unit that is having a historically great postseason.
Tampa Bay’s power play enters the series scoring on 38% of its opportunities. That would be the highest success rate for any team in a single playoff this deep into the postseason (with a minimum of 17 playoff games) since the start of the 2000 playoffs.
On the other side, Montreal’s penalty kill has been successful nearly 94% of the time this postseason, a mark that would also be the highest in a single postseason for any team this deep into the playoffs since the start of the 2000 playoffs.
Both units are playing as well as a power play and penalty kill unit can play, and something is going to have to give for one of them in this series. Either Tampa Bay’s power play finally gets shut down, or Montreal’s penalty kill finally gets solved.
Tampa Bay has been carried by two things this postseason: Goaltending and the power play. If Montreal can win this matchup that is going to go a long way toward another upset series win. And a championship.
3. Which goalie blinks first?
Carey Price and Vasilevskiy have been incredible this postseason and enter the series as two of the top contenders for the Conn Smythe trophy.
Price has helped carry the Canadiens to a level nobody thought possible when the playoffs began, while Vasilevskiy just keeps proving why is rightfully regarded as the league’s top goalie. If not the top goalie. They have not only been great, they have posted nearly identical numbers across the board through the first three rounds of the playoffs.
There is no reason to believe either one is going to suddenly stop producing at that level at this point in the playoffs. But only one of them can win, and there might not be any margin for error in this series. This seems like a series that has the potential for a good pace of play but not a lot of actual offense in terms of goals due to the talent and current play of the goalies.
At different points over the past decade each one has had a claim to being the best in the league at their position. Now they get to face off against each other on the biggest stage with both of them playing at the top of their game.
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)