For some, the pressure to win is too much. For others, they cherish the role of the underdog, where few give them a chance to win. That’s a role where the Montreal Canadiens have been since the 2021 NHL Playoffs have started. No one gave them a chance against the high-flying Toronto offense. Few believe they could beat a well rested Winnipeg Jets’ team. And they were supposed to be annihilated by the powerful Vegas Golden Knights. Yet, here they are, in the Stanley Cup Finals against the defending Champions Tampa Bay Lightning.
Betting odds are once again stacked against Montreal in this series. One would think that after not one, not two, but three rounds, the team Marc Bergevin put together would be getting a bit more respect. But no. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Lightning is heavy favourite to repeat and bring home the Holy Grail. And that sits just fine with the Canadiens.
High flying offense
In the first round, the Habs completely shut down one of the NHL’s best offense in the Toronto Maple Leafs. Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews managed one goal in total between the two in the entire seven-game series. In the third round, Vegas represented another top offensive team, a team deep at every position and more top-heavy than Montreal. Yet, the top-six for the Knights were also shut down by the Habs.
Tampa Bay counts in its ranks five of the NHL’s top-six points getters in these playoffs. Led by a deadly power play with an amazing 37.7% success rate, the Lightning comes in waves. The Canadiens, on the other hand, have the best penalty killing in the playoffs, having successfully killed 93.5% of the penalties issued to them… and God knows referees tried to sabotage their chances.
So the Clydesdales, referred to by Luke Richardson as Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot, Jeff Petry and Joel Edmundson, will have their work cut out in this series. So will the Canadiens’ top candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy Carey Price.
Keys to winning
There are a few things the Canadiens will have to do in order to win their 25th Stanley Cup.
☞ Discipline: Easier said than done sometimes, as the referees have gone pretty hard against them not only with the penalties called against the Habs, but the non-calls against their opponents. The last two games refereed by Kelly Sutherland and Eric Furlatt were very fairly officiated. But prior to that, it was horrible.
☞ Be physical against their top players: Tampa is much like Toronto in the sense that their top players aren’t physical. It will be important to to hit them and hit them often. They are coming out of a tough, physical seven-game series against the Islanders. We know that Nikita Kucherov has a broken rib and that Steven Stamkos is not at 100% either. The Canadiens will have to make them pay the price.
☞ Capitalize on the power play: Much like Vegas, the Lightning has some gritty players on the bottom-six and if the best way to keep them honest is to make them pay if they take liberties. Further, as we’ve seen in these playoffs, a power play goal here and there has helped the Canadiens win those games, which goes without saying.
☞ Traffic in front of the net: As good as Price’s numbers have been, Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s numbers are ever slightly better. He’s much better than Marc-André Fleury was with his rebounds so putting traffic in front and making his life miserable will be key in this series. Expect Corey Perry and Brendan Gallagher to be right in his kitchen once again.
As awful as I am at predictions, I’ve done fairly well in these playoffs. I’m expecting a long and hard fought series and will predict that the Canadiens will raise the Stanley Cup for the 25th time after a gruelling seven-games series. Here’s hoping that we can have a substantial crowd in the Bell Centre, and not this ridiculous 3,500 that we saw the last series. There should be at least 10,000 fans in there, particularly considering what we saw just outside the doors…
On a side note, it’s really unfortunate that Jonathan Drouin can’t participate in this series. We all know the trade sending Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa, perhaps the only big trade not in favour of Bergevin. The Lightning’s defenseman only has two assists in 18 playoffs’ games so far. Drouin is a proven playoffs’ performer. Get well Jo, fans are thinking about you. Go Habs Go!