In this final, CH will face the same kind of puzzle the New York Islanders faced in the previous round.
Like the Islanders, the Canadiens are a team which excels in defense (since the fifth meeting of the first round) and which relies on an attack sufficiently diversified to make the difference in close matches. In all fairness, the Montreal offense has been performing very well since the team took off against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Its average of three goals per game places the CH at the top of the league.
The catch is that it will be extremely difficult to maintain this pace in front of the defense of the Lightning, which belongs to the thin elite of the league. And what’s more, Tampa Bay has the most formidable offense in the hockey world. The low-score duels therefore very often turn in favor of the Florida team.
Last Friday, in the seventh game against the Islanders, the Lightning won 1-0 with a shorthanded goal. It’s hard to find a more defensive duel than this! In addition, since the 2020 Stanley Cup final, it was the fourth time in a row that Tampa Bay eliminated its opponents by signing a shutout.
Since the start of the 2020 playoffs, the Lightning have played 40 games, including 25 in which they have allowed 2 goals or less. The record of Jon Cooper’s men in these 25 meetings: 23-2.
Finally, it should be noted that since the start of the 2020 playoffs, Tampa Bay has never lost two games in a row. During this long period, the Lightning suffered 12 defeats to which they always responded with victories.
The CH is therefore engaged in a perilous face-to-face with a team which systematically wins the confrontations at low scores and which is (so far) almost impossible to beat two games in a row. We are not talking about a small contract.
That said, despite all of the above, the Islanders were able to push the Lightning through the cables in the semifinals. And the Stanley Cup champions won the day with difficulty and misery in Game 7.
In this final, we will see a duel between the two best goalies in the National Hockey League (LNH). Price will hardly be able to make a difference against Andrei Vasilevskyi. At best, by maintaining the very high standards it has set over the past month, Price will prevent Montreal from backing down.
For him to have a chance to lift the cup, his teammates will have to maximize the very little room for maneuver that remains.
The shorthanded unit, for example, could change the look of this series considerably. The shorthanded Canadian’s 93.5% save rate is currently the highest in NHL history.
In contrast, Tampa Bay has maintained a 37.7% powerplay success rate since the start of the playoff tournament. This is the best average of the last 40 years.
The champions have so far scored a third of their power play goals. However, the driving force behind these incredible successes, Nikita Kucherov, is now playing despite a rib cage injury. There is a vein to be exploited on this side.
In addition, the trio of Phillip Danault will have to be even more effective than it has been until now.
Much has been said about the top forwards in the Maple Leafs and Golden Knights being muzzled in previous rounds. But too much of that defensive efficiency was attributable to Carey Price who faced a high number of scoring chances.
For example, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner beat Price only once in 54 shots. And Vegas’ top six scorers have beaten Price just twice out of 52 scoring chances!
There are limits to what a goalie can accomplish. And Price has been walking on this thin wire for several weeks. Against an attack as merciless as that of the Lightning, it will be necessary to better support the guardian.
Will the Habs be able to?
Finally, some useful statistics.
- Since 2006, the team that bet on the best offensive player in the Stanley Cup final has won 60% of the time. Tampa Bay Advantage.
- The team with the best defense won 66.67% of the time. Tampa Bay Advantage.
- The team that relied on the best goalkeeper won in 57.1% of cases. Equality between the two clubs.
For all these reasons, although the CH has so far shown that nothing is impossible, I predict a victory for Tampa Bay in seven games.
How about the Conn-Smythe Trophy for Price?