The Stanley Cup will be in the building in Montreal on Monday night.
The Tampa Bay Lightning will have a chance to win their second consecutive Stanley Cup when they face the Montreal Canadiens in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final (8 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream). They enter the game with a commanding 3-0 series lead and will have an opportunity to complete the sweep, becoming just the fourth team in more than 30 years to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
We get you ready for Game 4 with three keys to watch for as the Canadiens try to extend the series.
1. Montreal finally makes some roster changes
Whether or not they are changes that will make a difference remains to be seen. But they are changes.
On defense, the Canadiens are putting Alexander Romanov and Brett Kulak into the lineup, a move that seems long overdue given how good that duo was during the regular season. Romanov has appeared in just two games this postseason while Kulak has played in just 11 games. Neither has played in more than two weeks. Is that pairing going to be enough to slow down the likes of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, and the rest of the Lightning offense? Probably not. But at this point when you are down 3-0 in a series any little improvement you can get is needed.
This is an interesting move because Kotkaniemi is one of the Canadiens’ leading goal scorers this postseason and also one of their most efficient offensive players based on ice time. Taking him out of the lineup in a situation where the Canadiens need to win and need goals is curious to say the least.
It is especially curious when consider their changes still will not result in Tomas Tatar getting playing time. Tatar has played in just five games this postseason and has not played since Game 5 of the First Round against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is so stunning because he has been their top offensive player for three years now, has great chemistry with Philip Danault and Brendan Gallagher on the already quietly dominant top line, and the team is facing elimination in a series where goal scoring is a problem.
This all means the Canadiens are going to try to avoid elimination without their top point producer over the past three seasons and one of their most efficient offensive players this postseason in a series where they can not score goals. Not exactly maximizing your roster.
2. Andrei Vasilevskiy goes for another series clinching shutout
Vasilevskiy should be the Conn Smythe favorite at this point in the playoffs. He has not only been Tampa Bay’s most important player this postseason, he is also playing some of the best hockey of his career.
He also has an opportunity to extend his already NHL record streak of series-clinching shutouts. Vasilevskiy has ended four consecutive series (Stanley Cup Final a year ago, plus all three series this postseason) with shutouts, and has a chance to clinch another Stanley Cup that way on Monday. Expecting him to do so is obviously setting a ridiculously high bar, but he has already set that bar for himself by playing at this level for this long. He is a special player doing special things on the biggest stage under the brightest lights.
He is the best goalie in hockey. He is playing like it. Again.
3. Montreal needs Carey Price to be at his best
These two statements are equally true.
- Carey Price is the single biggest reason the Montreal Canadiens are playing in the Stanley Cup Final.
- Carey Price is struggling so far in the Stanley Cup Final.
The second point is not the only reason the Canadiens are in this current situation facing a 3-0 series deficit, but it is one of the reasons. They are losing the goalie matchup in this series by a significant margin, and if the Canadiens are going to make this a series again that is going to have to change starting on Monday night.
It is a complete 180 from what we saw from him over the first three rounds where he was producing at an elite level. His all situations save percentage, even-strength save percentage, penalty kill save percentage, and scoring chance save percentage were all among the best in the league. When the Canadiens needed a save, he made it. When they need him to put the team on his back and carry it, he carried it. It was vintage Price.
We have not seen that so far in this series.
His save percentage so far in the Stanley Cup Final would be the lowest of any goalie, in any series this postseason.
Is that all on him? Not at all. The Canadiens have made countless mistakes that have fed into Tampa Bay’s transition game, something you can not do against that team. The defensive play has been lacking. And the offense (or lack of it) speaks for itself. But the easiest way for Montreal to get back into this is Price turning into superman again. Maybe that is an unfair ask. Maybe it is unreasonable. But sometimes you need the unreasonable to beat a team like Tampa Bay.
2021 NHL playoff schedule: Stanley Cup Final – (TB leads 3-0)
Game 1: Lightning 5, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Lightning 3, Canadiens 1
Game 3: Lightning 6, Canadiens 3
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)