After months of postseason action, the Stanley Cup Playoffs field has finally been trimmed down to just two teams: the Montreal Canadiens and the reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Fans of the league’s Western Conference likely cringe at the thought of an all-Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Final, but it’s one of the harsh realities that came about as a result of a COVID-19-impacted regular season.
The NHL was forced to split the league into four new geographically-based divisions for the 2020-2021 season, temporarily getting rid of the idea of the Eastern Conference and Western Conference in favor of a four “bubble” approach.
As a result, some teams that usually find themselves competing for the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl were in the hunt for the Prince of Wales Trophy, and vice versa.
After long journeys on either side of the bracket, the Canadiens became the fifth team to win both the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl and the Prince of Wales Trophy, earning the former by taking out the Vegas Golden Knights in six games in the Stanley Cup Semifinals.
The victory sent the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 28 years, and Montreal will look to become the first Canadian team to hoist the Cup since the franchise’s win against the Los Angeles Kings in 1993.
On the other end of the bracket, the Lightning won the Prince of Wales Trophy for the second year in a row, grinding out a seven-game series win against the New York Islanders in their Stanley Cup Semifinals matchup.
The Lightning will look to follow Drake’s advice and go back-to-back in 2021, hoping to keep Tampa Bay’s recent success intact just five months after Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.
In an always-polarizing move, the team made the decision to touch the Prince of Wales Trophy for the second year in a row, bucking a longtime superstition in favor of their own successful tradition.
Both sides bring loads of talent to the table, with a who’s who of offensive prowess on either bench and two of the best goalies in the league manning each net.
Tampa Bay will look to big names like Nikita Kucherov (27 points), Steven Stamkos (17 points, seven goals), and Brayden Point (20 points, 13 goals) to continue the team’s high-scoring mentality.
In net, goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (.936 save percentage) will try to maintain his momentum after a stellar Game 7 against the Islanders.
Meanwhile, Montreal will need everything goalie Carey Price (.934 save percentage) can bring to the table, and likely even more than that, to thwart the Lightning’s plans for a repeat.
Tyler Toffoli (14 points) and Nick Suzuki (13 points) will do their best to keep offensive pressure on Vasilevskiy, and Cole Caufield and Corey Perry (nine points each) will need to increase their production to keep up with the Lightning’s powerhouse offense.
After everything each team has been through since the Stanley Cup Playoffs started in May, it would be surprising to see this adventure end in anticlimactic fashion. So, it’s time to buckle up for what is sure to be a wild Stanley Cup Final, and clear your calendars for a string of stressful nights in June and July.
Schedule and TV info:
Game 1: Monday, June 28 at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN and Peacock
Game 2: Wednesday, June 30 at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN and Peacock
Game 3: Friday, July 2 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock
Game 4: Monday, July 5 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock
Game 5 (if needed): Wednesday, July 7 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock
Game 6 (if needed): Friday, July 9 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock
Game 7 (if needed): Sunday, July 11 at 7 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock