It’s good to be back. The Tampa Bay Lightning are in the Stanley Cup Final, taking on the Montreal Canadiens this time. The Bolts beat the Panthers, Hurricanes, and Islanders to get here, while the Habs beat the Leafs, Jets, and Golden Knights to get to the final. I’ll just come right out and say that as a fan I have no respect for the Habs and I don’t think it’s going to take many games for the Lightning to win their second Cup in a row. Knock on wood that they do it, but yeah, I’m pretty confident in knowing who’s the better team.
Justin has done a big preview of the series that’s up on the site right now, linked below.
Since it’s Game 1, I thought I’d pad his thoughts with some of my own, particularly where I think the Lightning are better and why they’ll be able to overcome the failures the Leafs and Golden Knights came upon in particular.
We know what the Lightning are. They have a high-skilled, in-your-face offense that is relentless on and off the puck. A big, mobile defense that is strong at denying entries and stopping cycles from behind the net. And the best goalie in the league. But behind them, they have one of the best coaches I’ve seen operate in Jon Cooper.
His ability to make adjustments to the style of play against him without going overboard has been really impressive. Namely, when the Islanders scored that three-goal comeback in Game 6, the Lightning made the adjustments necessary to cut off cycles and prolonged shifts in the defensive zone. They were better at targeting the skill players and forcing guys like Leo Komarov to play the puck. They got physical so the Islanders didn’t feel like they were invincible, and it got the home crowd riled up. They stretched out for breakaways, which scared the Islanders enough for them to back off too much, even if they didn’t score.
The relationship Cooper has with his team is invaluable. He can tell his players to go execute a game plan, and he knows they will follow it. And vice versa, the players know what Cooper comes up with is the right thing to do and they buy in to him and each other. That kind of trust only comes from winning, which makes me really grateful they kept the band together.
I can’t speak too much for the Golden Knights, but from afar it looked like they ran into a section of brick wall and couldn’t find a way around it. That created a negative feedback loop where they just lost more creativity and drive, and back luck turned into no motivation. As a Leafs fan, I know for sure the Leafs first line did that. They didn’t score early, they got in their own heads, got too cute with their chances, and started shooting from worse areas to compensate. They were forcing it.
I’m not too worried about this happening to Brayden Point and his crew. Starting with him and Anthony Cirelli, the Lightning lineup is full of guys who just Play the Forking Game. PTFG. They go out at full speed, force the opponent into mistakes, and they get the puck to the front of the net. The Point goal from Cirelli in Game 6 is a big example of that, as is the Yanni Gourde goal from Cirelli to win the series in Game 7. Play fast, play hard, and don’t let up. Follow that mindset and the Lightning will be back-to-back champs.
Tampa Bay Lightning Lines
Nikita Kucherov says he’s healthy, so he’ll be in the lineup for Game 1. As will Jan Rutta and Erik Cernak, so the Lightning will have a fully healthy lineup to work from. I fully expect the Habs to go out and bang some players up, so the Bolts starting out with everyone available is a good place to be at.
Kucherov was asked how he felt after Game 7 and if he was feeling any ill effects from Game 6 injury: "There was no injury. I don't know what you're talking about. I felt good and there was no question I was going to play that night." #Bolts #MTLvsTBL #StanleyCupFinal— Bryan Burns (@BBurnsNHL) June 27, 2021
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Steven Stamkos
Barclay Goodrow - Yanni Gourde - Blake Coleman
Pat Maroon - Tyler Johnson - Ross Colton
Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev - David Savard
Andrei Vasilevskiy - starter
Montreal Canadiens Lines
This is the lineup the Habs are running with. Joel Armia is out due to COVID protocols, it’s unclear as of this article going up what his official status is. Reports are that he didn’t travel with the team to Tampa Bay, so he’s out tonight and possibly for Game 2 as well. That said, he’s a third liner so it shouldn’t make a big difference.
Here’s how the Habs run their forward lines. The first line is meant to shutdown the other team’s top line, minimal offense in both directions. It’s going to be on Point and Kucherov to break through here. The second and third lines are mostly tailored for rush offense with shooters like Toffoli, Caufield, and Anderson doing most of that work. Kick Perry into the corner every time he gets on the ice and the fourth line won’t be anything to worry about.
Weber and Petry take lots of shots, so the Lightning wingers will need to be aggressive and in the way as much as possible.
Artturi Lehkonen - Phillip Danault - Brendan Gallagher
Tyler Toffoli - Nick Suzuki - Cole Caufield
Paul Byron - Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Josh Anderson
Jake Evans - Eric Staal - Corey Perry
Ben Chiarot - Shea Weber
Joel Edmundson - Jeff Petry
Erik Gustafsson - Jon Merrill