The stage is set for the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning to face off in Game One of the Stanley Cup Final. It’s the ultimate David versus Goliath series, as the defending champion Lightning are up against a Canadiens team who was the underdog in all of their previous series entering this round.
Here is a look at each team’s journey to the Stanley Cup, some key players to watch, and a free betting pick for Game One. As expected, Tampa Bay is a big favorite at home, listed at -198, while Montreal is +166 on the road.
How They Arrived
With a 24-21-11 record, the Canadiens squeaked into the playoffs with just 59 points, the fewest out of the 16 teams. While it seemed like their postseason stay would be a short one, Montreal began their run coming back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games. The Habs then swept the Winnipeg Jets to advance to the semifinals.
Once again projected to lose, the Canadiens managed to win two of the first four games against the Vegas Golden Knights, the only 40-game winner this season. But then, Montreal found a way to steal Game Five on the road and then take Game Six in overtime to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993.
Switching sides, the Lightning entered the postseason with a 36-17-3 record, good for third place in a loaded Central Division. They were tested immediately, battling the Florida Panthers for six games before eliminating their in-state rival at home. The Bolts then eliminated the Carolina Hurricanes in five games, advancing to the final four for the fifth time in seven years.
In a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Final, the Islanders and Lightning battled for seven intense games. In the end, though, Tampa Bay prevailed with a 1-0 win in Game Seven and now has a chance to be the first team since the Penguins in 2017 to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
Players to Watch
One of the more fascinating players to watch in this series is right wing Cole Caufield. Montreal’s first round pick from 2019 made his debut this season but was a healthy scratch to begin the playoffs. However, the 20-year-old burst onto the scene in the last series against Vegas, scoring four goals in six games.
Ultimately, the key for the Canadiens will rest on their defense. Their first line of Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher, and Artturi Lehkonen has combined for just five goals all postseason but played a huge role in holding the Golden Knights’ top-six forwards to just one goal in the last series.
As for the Lightning, there are few players in hockey who we’ve seen go on goal-scoring streaks like Brayden Point. The talented center put together a nine-game goal streak that finally came to an end in Game Seven against the Islanders, the second-longest streak in NHL history. Point has 14 total goals this postseason.
Tampa Bay’s depth is going to play a significant role in this series as well. Besides players like Point and leading postseason scorer Nikita Kucherov, others like Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn (both have 17 points) and Yanni Gourde, who scored the lone goal in Game Seven, will likely make the difference in this series.
If there is one notable battle this series, it’s in net, where on paper, these might be the two best goaltenders in hockey. Montreal’s Carey Price has been tremendous all postseason, averaging a meager 2.02 GAA and .934 save percentage in 17 games.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy has a slightly superior 1.99 GAA and .936 save percentage in one more game this postseason.
Since the NHL adopted the best-of-seven format for the Stanley Cup Final in 1939, the team that won Game One won the series 75.3 percent of the time or 61 out of 81 times. However, in each of the last three years, the eventual Stanley Cup winner has lost Game One.
By nearly all accounts, the Lightning are the more talented team and should eventually win this series. However, there is a lot of value on Montreal pulling off the upset, especially if Price is hot and Kucherov isn’t 100 percent healthy. For Game One, let’s take the visitors to do something wild and continue their Cinderella run.
Free Pick: Montreal Canadiens +166.
100% up to $3,000 Bonus
Bovada is our most recommended ONLINE CASINO and POKER ROOM for US players with excellent deposit options. Get your 100% signup bonus today.