This one simply hits otherwise, doesn’t it?
With all due respect to current Stanley Cup last members, there’s one thing undeniably further within the air with the Montreal Canadiens reaching the massive dance for the primary time in 28 years. Seeing the St. Louis Blues finish a 52-year drought in 2019 was magical, as was watching Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals break their impasse the yr earlier than that, however the Habs are hockey’s most storied franchise. It’s just like the New York Yankees reaching the World Sequence. It simply feels…larger.
That temper was palpable Sunday when the Habs, house owners of 24 Stanley Cups, and defending champion Lightning participated in Zoom convention requires Stanley Cup Media Day. We noticed the standard hockey questions, positive, protecting all the things from the Habs’ wonderful penalty kill to Brayden Level’s unbelievable goal-scoring run, however we additionally noticed Lightning gamers resembling left winger Alex Killorn and defenseman David Savard requested what it was wish to face their hometown crew from Montreal within the last. Killorn admitted he was excited to see the Habs make it and that his family and friends have been sustaining their poker faces when it got here to which crew they’d cheer for.
The Montreal issue provides a large dollop of intrigue to a last that was already stuffed with it primarily based on the gamers collaborating. Now we have the 2 finest goalies on the planet locking horns in Carey Value and Andrei Vasilevskiy; an opportunity for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos at a re-do on final yr’s Cup run, by which he may solely play two minutes and 47 seconds; and the tip of a protracted look forward to a visit to the ultimate for grizzled Habs captain Shea Weber. And people are only a few of the storylines.
So which crew will shut the e-book on 2020-21 hoisting the Cup? The mighty Lightning hope to develop into simply the fourth repeat champion because the Nineteen Nineties started, becoming a member of the 1992 Pittsburgh Penguins, 1998 Detroit Purple Wings and 2017 Penguins. The plucky Habs will try to develop into the primary Canadian crew to carry the chalice since they did so in 1993. Who has the sting? Let’s break down the sequence in six essential classes, with perception from the individuals collaborating in it.
The Lightning are as deep and proficient as any crew within the league largely due to their almost unrivalled scoring depth. It was telling that they “solely” ranked ninth within the NHL in common offense in the course of the common season regardless of star proper winger Nikita Kucherov sitting out all 56 video games after hip surgical procedure and heart Stamkos lacking the ultimate 16 video games with a lower-body damage. The extra correct illustration of who the Lightning are is the playoff version, full with Stamkos and Kucherov parachuting again into the lineup simply as Spherical 1 started. This Tampa crew truly averages extra targets per sport within the post-season (3.22) than the common season (3.21), a powerful feat given the officers put the whistles away and invite a extra grinding sport within the playoffs. Kucherov has lapped the sector within the post-season scoring race, churning out 27 factors in 18 video games, whereas heart Level has channelled 1976 Reggie Leach with 14 targets in 18 video games, together with a nine-game purpose streak, and the Lightning are balanced, boasting seven gamers with a minimum of 4 targets this post-season.
And but…are they overrated when it comes to their scoring contributions in 5-on-5 play? They’ve been somewhat atypical general at 5-on-5 – even under common at producing photographs. Among the many 16 groups within the area, the Bolts sit within the backside half in anticipated targets per 60 throughout post-season play. Then once more, due to their elite talent, they don’t want as many possibilities as most groups do. They common greater than 11 high-danger shot makes an attempt per 60 minutes, second amongst each crew to compete within the 2021 post-season. Through the common season, Tampa sat twenty second in that class. Getting Kucherov and Stamkos again modified the crew’s offensive id.
The Habs, one of many deepest groups within the league at ahead, did an amazing job producing possibilities by quantity within the common season regardless of missing any true celebrity scorers. They graded out among the many finest groups within the league in each shot- and chance-generating metric. Within the playoffs, their id has truly modified to that of a lower-volume counter-attacker, maybe by necessity as a result of they’ve been matched up towards groups favored to beat them again and again. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Vegas Golden Knights badly out-chanced them, however Value’s otherworldly play in web afforded the Habs the flexibility to soak up one other crew’s assault and counter-punch in transition.
The Habs do have the velocity to make their counter-attacks depend due to the likes of Paul Byron, Brendan Gallagher and, most significantly, rising franchise pillars Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. The latter two have injected a degree of hazard that the crew beforehand lacked.
“There’s a youthful power that we deliver,” Suzuki stated. “Perhaps we don’t actually know what to anticipate, however that is perhaps a superb factor, too.”
Armed with a lethal launch and the velocity to search out capturing lanes, Caufield sits within the 87th percentile for the playoffs in photographs per 60 amongst 102 forwards with 100 or extra minutes performed. It’s doable we haven’t seen the perfect of him but in these playoffs.
The Habs use a real committee method to scoring. No participant has greater than 5 targets or 14 factors up to now this post-season. The second line of Tyler Toffoli, Suzuki and Caufield is essentially the most dynamic, however loads of different Hab forwards have had their moments, from Jesperi Kotkaniemi to Josh Anderson to the veteran agitator Corey Perry.
Nonetheless, whereas the 5-on-5 offense is sneaky-close to even, there’s no denying that Tampa’s group has a better ceiling. The Habs don’t have any counterparts measuring as much as Kucherov, Level and Stamkos, and Tampa’s subsequent wave of forwards, from Ondrej Palat to Anthony Cirelli to Blake Coleman to Yanni Gourde, offers great assist.
The Lightning received the Stanley Cup final season as a whole crew that might fill the web but additionally shut down opponents, and many of the parts that made them so full stay. In Level and Anthony Cirelli, the Lightning have two extremely impactful two-way facilities able to shadowing different groups’ high forwards. Whereas Victor Hedman had a down yr (regardless of ending as a Norris Trophy finalist), he’s nonetheless a horse you need to belief for half-hour an evening in the course of the last and appears to have gotten higher because the playoffs progress, whereas Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak do heavy lifting as a shutdown tandem, too.
As an entire, although, this Tampa crew isn’t as hermetic defensively as final yr’s. The Bolts have been outshot and outchanced in these playoffs, albeit they’ve finished a decent job limiting likelihood high quality. On the entire, this yr’s crew depends on goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy way over it did final season.
The Habs, then again, are a defense-first group who did a superb job all season defending Value. Solely three groups allowed fewer photographs on purpose per 60 at 5-on-5. It’s been a barely totally different story within the post-season with the Habs’ dealing with stiffer competitors. They’ve allowed an extra 4 photographs per 60 minutes. However they’ve stored high-danger possibilities comparatively low, and the shutdown work from heart Phillip Danault and his line has been wonderful as all the time. They contained Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in Spherical 1 and totally erased Mark Stone in Spherical 3. In 5-on-5 play, opponents have managed simply 5 targets this post-season in 261 minutes with Danault on the ice.
“They’ve finished an amazing job shutting down these traces, however that’s the place it’s a must to depend on your depth,” Killorn stated. “You may’t depend on one line, and that’s why we as a crew have been profitable. Now we have 4 traces that may go, 4 traces that may rating. In a playoff sequence, it’s inevitable that the opposing crew’s going to have an amazing sport or couple video games the place perhaps they shut down our high line, however that’s the place it’s a must to depend on the depth, and hopefully we are able to do this.”
Montreal’s high 4 on protection – Ben Chiarot, Shea Weber, Joel Edmundson and Jeff Petry – have confirmed sturdy and defended the push effectively. That individual talent will likely be notably vital towards the proficient Lightning.
Value versus Vasilevskiy shapes up as an all-time nice netminding duel, maybe the perfect on paper for a Cup last since Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur in 2001. Vasilevskiy entered the post-season because the consensus finest goaltender on the planet, however Value has rejoined that dialogue and justified the truth that individuals inside the game have constantly named him as the perfect within the sport at the same time as his 2014-15 Vezina Trophy season shrinks to a speck within the rearview mirror.
Not like earlier seasons by which Vasilevskiy’s underlying numbers didn’t assist his elite floor numbers, he’s been actually elite in 2020-21. Amongst 43 goalies with a minimum of 1,000 minutes performed at 5-on-5, he confronted the Tenth-most excessive hazard possibilities per 60 but completed with the second-best high-danger save share within the league. Even with essentially the most difficult workload of his profession, he was all-world. Within the post-season, he’s once more been notably nice towards the highest-quality possibilities, posting an unbelievable .896 high-danger SP. He’s sustaining the usual he set in the course of the common season and has stepped up because the stakes elevated. Whereas coach Jon Cooper is adamant that his crew can’t sit again and depend on its goaltender an excessive amount of, as a balanced roster is the hallmark of Tampa’s success, he’s actually thrilled to have a stopper nearly as good as ‘Vasy.’
“We’ve watched him develop into the winner he’s, the competitor he’s, and also you don’t get to this degree except you’ve acquired nice goaltending,” Cooper stated. “Therefore why each goalies’ statistics are the identical, why each groups are nonetheless enjoying, largely as a result of the goalies have been nice.”
Value, then again? For a second consecutive yr, he struggled within the common season. In that 43-goalie pattern, he graded out because the Twenty seventh-best netminder within the league when it comes to targets saved above common per 60 minutes regardless of the third lowest anticipated targets towards per 60. Maybe Value merely isn’t at his finest with a low-volume, low-difficulty workload? Within the post-season with harder opponents, he’s completely reworked. He’s dealing with greater than 30 photographs per 60 minutes, and his anticipated targets towards mark has jumped nearly half a purpose, but he’s been dominant beneath the elevated strain, posting a spectacular .934 SP. Not solely does his almost-robotic calm get into opponents’ heads, however it could actually additionally get into his teammates’ heads – in a great way. Realizing Value is again there will increase the D-corps’ confidence.
“That goes a good distance,” Petry stated. “Whether or not you’re up in a sport, down in a sport, he’s all the time calm and picked up, and his actions appear easy. He doesn’t get rattled within the web. His calming presence sends a message to the entire crew…understanding you could have a man like that behind you is one thing particular.”
It’s unimaginable to award an edge in web right here. Value and Vasilevskiy are the one two winners of the “finest goalie” vote because the NHL Gamers’ Affiliation started publishing its participant polls in 2017-18.
Might particular groups determine the sequence? It’s Tampa’s powerhouse energy play towards Montreal’s smothering penalty kill. The Bolts are so dominant with the person benefit that they nearly depend on energy performs an excessive amount of. They’re changing at a cartoonish 37.7 % this post-season. However will they meet their match within the Habs? Their penalty kill sits at an astonishing 93.5 % for the playoffs, setting an NHL playoff file going 13 straight video games with out permitting a purpose. It hurts to have proper winger Joel Armia out for the beginning of the sequence in COVID-19 protocol, however the Habs have the depth to stay a lockdown P.Okay. unit with out him. Not solely is it extraordinarily robust to attain towards the likes of Weber, Edmundson, Danault and Artturi Lehkonen, however the Habs have been among the many most disciplined groups within the playoffs, averaging the 14th-most PIM per sport among the many 16 members.
“We are able to’t take penalties except we’re nullifying a scoring likelihood or attempting to play further aggressive and get a tough hit that simply occurs to be a penalty – we’ll take these, however the stick penalties laterally within the impartial zone and offensive zone we are able to’t take,” stated Canadiens assistant coach Luke Richardson, filling in as the top coach whereas Dominique Ducharme stays in COVID-19 protocol. “In order that’ll be the primary concern for the entire crew. Penalty killing, the fellows are enjoying nice, they’re enjoying assured, they’re enjoying aggressive, and that’s what we have now to do. For Tampa, they’ve elite expertise, and you may’t simply take one participant away, as a result of then they’ll decide you aside some place else. So we have now to be alert in all conditions.”
The Lightning, then again, are constantly among the many least disciplined groups within the league. They require an elite penalty kill to bail them out. It labored within the 2020 post-season with key ahead additions Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow doing great work shorthanded, and the Bolts are nonetheless robust at 83 % for the 2021 playoffs.
The Habs energy play struggled early on on this post-season however has a minimum of appeared ample since, boosted by bringing Caufield into the fray. Two of his 4 targets have come on the ability play.
It’s tough to provide an edge right here to 1 crew or the opposite because the Bolts’ energy play and Habs penalty kill have been overwhelmingly nice and every crew has held its personal on the opposite facet of particular groups, too.
Richardson has finished an admirable job submitting in whereas Ducharme works by way of his 14-day quarantine. Richardson’s calming power jives with this underdog group.
Nonetheless, the teaching edge clearly goes to Tampa’s Cooper, who took this crew to the ultimate in 2015, received all of it in 2020 and is in line to be named coach of Canada’s 2022 Olympic crew ought to NHL gamers get to go. His larger-than-life persona makes no second too huge for him and equips him completely to handle a crew loaded with stars.
Assume together with your head, and it most likely tells you the Lightning win this sequence. They’re essentially the most balanced and proficient crew within the NHL. They have been final yr, too. However in case you suppose together with your coronary heart? The Habs have some particular juju round them, having posted the league’s 18th-best file, firing coach Claude Julien in the course of the season and getting into every spherical as a transparent underdog. They don’t essentially see themselves as underdogs, however they’ll nonetheless weaponize an “us towards the world” mentality.
“We imagine that we aren’t the underdog, that we’re very assured in ourselves and what we’ve achieved,” Richardson stated. “However in the identical respect, (the underdog label is) high-quality. We’ve tuned out the skin of the dressing room and let individuals say what they need to say. We don’t even must say it to the gamers. We hear them speaking about it. That’s an amazing angle to have. We don’t actually use it as a motivation to show individuals unsuitable, however you possibly can have just a little little bit of ignorance in you that you simply need to present folks that we belong greater than that they’re unsuitable.”
The Bolts, then again, know what it’s wish to be champs however need to expertise it correctly this time. Profitable within the COVID-19 bubble final yr robbed them of the possibility to share the expertise with their family members within the conventional approach. Now Amalie Enviornment is filled with a minimum of 14,800 individuals and gives Tampa the possibility to expertise all of the spoils of profitable. That’s a strong motivator.
The Lightning have the benefit of current championship expertise, however Montreal has loads of winners in its lineup too. Edmundson, Toffoli, Perry, Eric Staal, Jake Allen and Michael Frolik have rings.
THE HOCKEY NEWS’ CONSENSUS PREDICTION: Lightning in six video games.