NHL Stanley Cup Finals Preview and Prediction
Source: Eric Bolte/USA TODAY Sports
The NHL Stanley Cup playoffs are coming to a close, and all signs point towards the cup! Thirty one teams opened the season with hopes of being in this spot, but only two have fulfilled that dream. The Tampa Bay Lightning will look to go back-to-back for the first time in franchise history, and they’ll take on the Montreal Canadiens who seek their 25th Stanley Cup victory.
Who will get the glorious opportunity to raise hockey's Holy grail? Well, here is my final prediction of the NHL season. Let’s go!
This has to be a dream for Montreal fans. They clinched a playoff spot a week before the season started and not too many, including myself, gave them any shot at all. The Habs have had the toughest road you could have asked for to get to this point. Toronto in seven, the Jets in four, and then took out the best remaining team from the regular season in six. They’ve been impressive, and have won 11 of their last 13 games in this postseason. Incredible.
A big reason for the Habs success is in large part due to their young studs. Nick Suzuki and Cole Caulfield have been sensational. Both players are in the top three in scoring for Montreal during this postseason, with Suzuki tied for most goals on the team. Their special teams have been major factors as well. Their PP has been good, but their PK has been legendary, sitting atop of the all-time leader board till this point.
Also, five of the Habs twelve wins have come in sudden death. In their last Cup win in '93, Montreal won 10 overtime games. Montreal finds ways to win. It's been a wild ride for the NHL's most decorated team.
But what about Tampa? They have all of their big weapons ready to go, including Steven Stamkos (who only played about 4 minutes of ice time through the whole postseason last season), as well as Nikita Kucherov who had a brief scare in the Islanders series. Their run to the cup was a much more expected outcome than their counterpart, but that doesn’t make their journey any less impressive.
Their offence has been scorching hot in these playoffs. They lead in total goals for with 48 and own the best goal differential (+21). Essentially, they lead the pack in every offensive category, and will look to ride that wave against a hot Carey Price. With Brayden Point making history in his own right, and Kucherov on pace to match his playoff points total from last year. The Lightning will be the favourites heading into the season finale.
We can talk till we are blue in the face about scoring, and each's success on special teams, but realistically this matchup will come down to goaltending. Carey Price and Andrei Vasilevskiy will go toe-to-toe in one of the best Finals goaltending matchups in recent memory. Price has no doubt been Montreal's most valuable player while Vasilevskiy has been the Lightning's most dependable.
Price faced two of the highest scoring offences in the league and got the better of them both. He shutdown the top line of Matthews and Marner, and he didn't give up much against Stone and Karlsson either. Vasilevskiy's prowess in the playoffs can’t be overlooked either, garnering a perfect record in series-clinching games this postseason. He also owns the most shutouts of any goalie these playoffs as well. It should be fun watching these two work.
The Lightning's quest for back-to-back Cup wins lead them square into the hands of the Habs and their historic franchise. They are a complete team that I just don’t think can't be taken down, and unfortunately for Montreal that means the run is over. It will be a long, back and forth series, but ultimately Canada's Stanley Cup drought will continue. Oh, and Brayden Point takes home the Conn-Smythe!
Lightning in Seven!