It has been an NHL season unlike any other. From realigned divisions to obscure schedules, hockey has had to jump through its fair share of hoops, even after playing the entire 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs in a bubble. Nonetheless, the excitement and anticipation ahead of Game 1 in this year’s Stanley Cup Finals matchup is palpable. The Tampa Bay Lightning will try to win their second consecutive NHL championship as they take on the Montreal Canadiens. The team with the fewest points coming into the NHL Playoffs, the Canadiens will be vying to write a storybook ending to their Cinderella run and deliver Canada its first Stanley Cup since 1993.
The following discusses three keys to watch for in this Canadiens vs Lightning Stanley Cup Finals matchup.
Keys to the Stanley Cup Finals | Canadiens vs Lightning
Experience vs Youth
With much of last year’s team back, the Lightning are not lacking in playoff experience. This team knows just what it takes to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup and would love to do it again with their fans actually allowed to be there this time around. Having that big-fight experience and veteran savvy could serve Tampa Bay well in these Stanley Cup Finals.
The story is virtually the exact opposite for the Canadiens. After all, this team wasn’t expected to come anywhere close to making it this far. While Montreal does have a handful of veterans on the roster, most notably Carey Price and Shea Weber, this team is much younger and far less experienced than the Lightning squad that they will battle for the Cup. Could youth and inexperience be a good thing? Perhaps it will allow the Canadiens to play loose and free just as they have throughout this entire magical playoff run.
Deciphering which team has the advantage between the pipes ahead of this series is next to impossible. It ultimately may come down to how each keeper’s respective defense holds up in front of him. Both Montreal’s Carey Price and Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy have been phenomenal during these NHL Playoffs.
Carey Price has been the backbone behind the Canadiens’ stunning run to even reach the Stanley Cup Finals. He was brilliant in the Second Round sweep of the Winnipeg Jets and frustrated the uber-talented roster of the Vegas Golden Knights in the Semifinal Round. Price has been rock solid in the closest playoff games to date. As a result, the Canadiens have won four of the five sudden-death overtime affairs that they have been a part of. As has been the story throughout the postseason, the Habs will only go as far as Price can take them.
While he is seven years younger than his counterpart in this Stanley Cup Finals matchup, Andrei Vasilevskiy just won it all a season ago. He has passed all three tests faced during this year’s playoffs with flying colors. In fact, Vasilevskiy made a little history in the Lightning’s Game 7 win over the New York Islanders in the Semifinal Round. By pitching a 1-0 shutout, he became the first goalie to have three shutouts in series-clinching victories in the same postseason. Considering the other two came against even more prolific scoring offenses in the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers, it’s safe to say Vasilevskiy is locked in.
Despite losing both the puck control and shots on goal battles throughout their Semifinal Round matchup, the Canadiens dispatched the Vegas Golden Knights in six games. They did so by making the most of the scoring chances they did get. Two of their youngest players came up huge on a regular basis last round. Cole Caufield (20) and Nick Suzuki (21) stood out in particular as having a stellar series. Given their size disadvantage (discussed more below), Montreal will once again have to make the most of the opportunities they do get.
Size Does Matter
When it comes to player size, the Lightning will have a decisive advantage in these Stanley Cup Finals. Tampa Bay is yet to face an opponent that had a bigger roster this postseason. The Canadiens certainly fall short when it comes to size and physicality in this matchup. Hits and checks mean more in the Stanley Cup Playoffs than at any other point during the season. Unfortunately for Montreal, the Lightning combine plenty of speed with their big-hitting abilities. The Habs will truly have to finesse their way to success in this matchup.
Brayden Point on Point
No player has had a better NHL Playoffs run than Lightning center Brayden Point. After scoring 23 goals over 56 regular-season games, the 25-year-old has taken his game to a whole new level recently. Point has scored 14 goals during Tampa’s postseason run and has found the back of the net in 13 of the team’s 18 games played. In fact, Point put together an incredible streak of nine consecutive playoff games with a goal scored spanning the Second and Semifinal Rounds.
Although that streak was broken in the Lightning’s Game 7 win, it doesn’t take away from what Point has done up to this point. If anyone is going to be able to solve Carey Price on a consistent basis in these Stanley Cup Finals, one has to believe it will be him.