On Friday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the New York Islanders, breaking their history of losing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals and advancing to their second Stanley Cup Final in a row. If you follow this blog and hockey in general, this wouldn’t surprise you as the defending champions Tampa Bay Lightning have been one of the main favorites this season and even their short slump at the end of the regular season didn’t seriously lower their odds.
The return of Nikita Kucherov also played a big part in this. On the other side of the ice, however, is the team which few of us could’ve predicted to see in the Stanley Cup Final – the Montreal Canadiens.
The Montreal Canadiens’ path to the Stanley Cup Final is beautiful in its chaotic energy. Last year they sneaked into the Eastern Conference qualifying of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs with the worst record in the league and surprisingly defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins, advancing to the first-round. Then it was considered the Penguins’ failure, although the Canadiens played solidly and deservedly moved on to the next round. Their story ended pretty quick last year, as they had been eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first-round.
This regular season the Habs started with an impressive hot-streak – they were the only NHL team which didn’t lose in regulation after opening seven games of the season. This streak finished very quick and the Canadiens started to fall down the standings. They were balancing on the edge of elimination until the end of the regular season, but eventually made it to the playoffs despite losing five games in a row before the regular season ended.
While the eyes of many people were on the Colorado Avalanche and the Vegas Golden Knights, whose second-round matchup were taken as a hidden Western Conference Final, the Canadiens burst through the Stanley Cup Playoffs bracket against all the odds. They eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, despite trailing 3-1 in the series. The second-round series against the Winnipeg Jets was the only series where Montreal was considered the favorite and they confirmed it, sweeping them 4-0. In the end they beat the Golden Knights, who looked nothing like the team which just sent the Colorado Avalanche home.
Ahead of the Stanley Cup Final, the Montreal Canadiens are once again considered underdogs. Most of the simulation models give them 41 percent probability of winning the Stanley Cup at most.
Day 40— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) June 26, 2021
No more Islanders. pic.twitter.com/0qpBNEZxAc
Speaking to the media after Game 7, Nikita Kucherov noted that there was no doubt for him that he’s going to play against Islanders [NHL.com]
“There was no question if I was going to play or not,” Kucherov said. “…You’ve got to sacrifice yourself and play in those moments and share it with the boys. I felt good today.”
Jon Cooper admitted that he wasn’t as much confident
“I didn’t feel the same way. I’m glad he did, and that’s the only vote that counts. It was dicey. I thought that was a big push for our room because I’m not so sure the players thought he was going to end up playing, especially after the game a couple nights ago. But not only do we get Kuch back, but to get Cerny back, I thought that was a huge lift for us and clearly it was good mojo for our guys.”
The Lightning could join some rare company in less than two weeks
The @TBLightning are back in the #StanleyCup Final for the second time in as many seasons and fourth in franchise history (also 2004, 2015 & 2020). #NHLStats— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) June 26, 2021
: Game 1, Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS, CBC pic.twitter.com/tWegwxQtYm
The Lightning owner Jeff Vinik might miss some of the Stanley Cup action, as his oldest son is getting married July 10, the day after Game 6 is scheduled in Montreal.