3 Takeaways: Vasilevskiy saves Lightning vs. Canadiens in Stanley Cup Final Game 2

Game 1 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final was close, but it seemed appropriate that the Lightning won against the Canadiens. In Game 2, the Canadiens must feel robbed — mostly by Andrei Vasilevskiy.

No doubt, Vasilevskiy (and that incredible Blake Coleman goal) headlined the Lightning’s 3-1 win against the Canadiens in Game 2. There was more to it than that, though, so let’s drill into three takeaways from Game 2 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

1. Vasilevskiy’s Vezina vengeance? Either way, a firm display of dominance

On Tuesday, the 2021 NHL Awards presented a mild surprise, as Marc-Andre Fleury beat out Andrei Vasilevskiy for the Vezina Trophy. In Game 2 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, Vasilevskiy sure looked like the no-doubt-about-it best goalie in the world.

Personally, it brought back memories of Hakeem Olajuwon dismantling David Robinson after Robinson beat out “The Dream” for NBA MVP.

Or, maybe you’d prefer Michael Jordan torching Karl Malone and/or anyone who had the audacity to win the MVP in the Age of Airness?

Does this mean that Vasilevskiy “took that personally?” Should someone Photoshop Vasilevskiy making faces while reading about Fleury winning the Vezina on some tablet?

Nah, it’s probably a coincidence. After all, even though Price received a ton of (justified) press heading into the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, Vasilevskiy’s actually put up slightly better numbers. (Even before the distance widened after Game 1 and 2.)

[Fleury wins 2021 Vezina over Vasilevskiy]

Whatever stock you put into Vezina motivation, Vasilevskiy was the difference-maker in Game 2. He made 42 out of 43 saves. And Vasilevskiy has a tendency to make tough saves look easy to the point where it has to be a bit debilitating for Lightning opponents.

Again, Vasilevskiy is making this stuff pretty routine. Here’s an impressive stat from the NHL about Vasilevskiy’s playoff dominance after Game 2:

Andrei Vasilevskiy (42 saves) recorded his sixth career playoff outing with 40-plus saves, already the most by a Lightning goaltender in franchise history. His four performances with 40 or more saves over the last two postseasons are also the most among all goaltenders, ahead of
Darcy Kuemper and Semyon Varlamov (both with three).

2. Big bounce back from Canadiens — but they still need to be better

PHT’s Adam Gretz called for a better performance from the line of Tyler Toffoli, Cole Caufield, and Nick Suzuki in his 3 Keys to Game 2.

By just about every measure, that trio was much better in Game 2. They even generated Montreal’s lone goal against Vasilevskiy, a funky power-play tally for Suzuki.

  • Via Natural Stat Trick, Suzuki – Caufield – Toffoli generated a 10-4 scoring chance advantage, and a 4-0 high-danger edge at even-strength.
  • They combined for a whopping 14 shots on goal in Game 2, including an absurd nine by Suzuki. They made more than a few dangerous things happen in rush situations.

After Game 1, a lot of attention went the way of Phillip Danault‘s shutdown line. While Luke Richardson/Dominique Ducharme will want to put Danault’s trio in the right situations with the last change in Game 3 in Montreal on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBC / Peacock), there are times when you can’t control everything. So it has to be heartening that Toffoli – Caufield – Suzuki looked more dynamic and dangerous in Game 2.

But the Canadiens didn’t dominate Game 2 as much in some of the key areas, making this a little bit less about Vasilevskiy carrying the Lightning.

Now, different people tabulate expected goals/”Grade-A chances”/other factors in different ways. For example: by Natural Stat Trick’s tally, the Canadiens generated a slight 7-6 advantage in high-danger chances at even-strength.

[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Still, the point is that the Canadiens still emulated the quantity-over-quality elements that doomed their last opponents, the Golden Knights, at times. Vegas often controlled the shot share, but sometimes settled for quantity over quality.

The Canadiens have a lot to build on from Game 2, and the Lightning have to want to balance things out better.

Still, Montreal needs to get to the “high price real estate” areas of the ice more often. At least if Vasilevskiy can match, or even outplay, Price as the 2021 Stanley Cup Final continues.

3. Why Game 2 loss burns the Canadiens a bit extra

Via the NHL, the Lightning are 8-0-0 after taking 2-0 playoff series leads. For all of the “you haven’t really lost a playoff series until you lose at home” talk, that’s a scary thought against the defending champions.

But it stings a little extra that Montreal was so close to making this 1-1.  (In case you were wondering, the Lightning are 12-6 in series that were tied 1-1.)

Let’s consider some of the factors that might add some salt to Montreal’s post-Game-2-wounds:

  • Again, they generally outplayed Tampa Bay, including that gaudy 43-23 SOG disparity. Even if the quality goes the other way, it’s tough to overcome that much of a possession difference. This holds particularly true when you consider the funky nature of Game 2’s first two goals.
  • How often can the Habs realistically win the special teams battle? Frankly, they’d probably take a draw most nights vs. the Bolts. In Game 2, the Canadiens went 1-for-3 on the power play, while the Lightning went 0-for-3.
  • As often as Carey Price saved the Canadiens’ bacon, they more or less put him in a position to win Game 2. He could not pull it off.
  • Ondrej Palat scored that crucial 3-1 insurance goal. Still, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point went pointless in Game 2, and the Canadiens still lost. Ouch.
  • The Canadiens managed the puck better in Game 2, but the Lightning made them pay dearly when they failed to.

[MORE: Lightning squeeze past Canadiens in Game 2]

We’ve seen teams fight back from down 2-0, and even 3-0, in fairly recent playoff series. The Golden Knights were in that situation against the Avalanche, and then rattled off four straight wins. So the Canadiens aren’t hopeless.

That said, Game 2 probably hurt the Canadiens more than Game 1, and it’s going to be tough to have such a small margin of error vs. the Lightning as the 2021 Stanley Cup Final wages on.

CANADIENS VS. LIGHTNING (TB leads series 2-0)

Game 1: Lightning 5, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Lightning 3, Canadiens 1
Game 3: Fri. July 2: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock) – livestream
Game 4: Mon. July 5: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock) – livestream
*Game 5: Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 6: Fri. July 9: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 7: Sun. July 11: Canadiens at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)

*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.

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