Wait, you didn’t pick the Montreal Canadiens to be facing off against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the conclusion of your 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs bracket? Me neither. Yet, here we are. So we might as well make the best of it and see if we can close things out with a little more success.
Considering that I chose the Vegas Golden Knights and New York Islanders as the main characters for what I thought would be a more predictable Stanley Cup Final, it’s safe to say my passing grade barely kept me afloat after this round.
Best of Sevens
Vegas (2)/Montreal (4)
Tampa Bay (4)/New York (3)
From coming out with a strong start to my postseason predictions, each passing round has weakened my overall results.
Round by Round
First Round: 5-3
Second Round: 2-2
Stanley Cup Final: TBA
I’m now sitting at a record of 7-7. Respectable, I suppose, but not enough to call myself a champion. This conclusion will mean I either end 8-7 or 7-8, with my final pick making a real difference in the bigger scheme of things.
With that, let’s get into my last remaining guess of the 2020-21 campaign. Here’s how I see the Stanley Cup Final rounding things out.
Tampa Bay vs Montreal
Two clubs, both now meeting at the peak of this postseason, with drastically different expectations upon them throughout. While the Lightning look to enter dynasty status with a second straight Stanley Cup, the Canadiens were counted out before these playoffs even began.
Beyond the handful of storylines that intertwine the histories between these two organizations, it’s not as though we can rely on a more recent rivalry. Simply stated, 2020-21’s divisional re-alignment meant that these two teams had no reason to ever even be in the same arena last season.
In fact, the last time these two met was on March 5, 2020. Well over a year ago. So, how will their unfamiliarity play out in front of each anxious fanbase? Here’s what I expect we’ll all witness.
Montreal’s Recent Rise to Fame
Outside of a fraction of their more optimistic fans, there’s no way anyone else predicted the Canadiens would make it this far. I certainly didn’t and I’ll confidently call you a liar if you claim you did. To have foreseen them manhandling the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, and Vegas Golden Knights would have surely seemed like a pipedream.
Now, with that said, it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be here. Those busy creating underlying storylines to downplay what Montreal has earned will never be convinced otherwise. So, forget about them. The reality is that this team, collectively, made this their reality by overcoming inferior opponents.
Carey Price has been outstanding, while Tyler Toffoli scored the big goals, and Cole Caufield has already made his presence felt. What a run they’ve all had and there is a lot for their group to be proud of. However, their cooldown will hit hard as they face their toughest opponent yet.
Tampa Bay’s Determined Dominance
There’s no denying that Tampa Bay has propelled to the top of this league power rankings and rightfully so. They have been set up for success for years now, finally cashing in on the franchise’s second Stanley Cup in 2020. It was a feel-good story, all around, especially given the uncertainty that preceded it.
On the flip side, Tampa’s mischievous timing that brought superstar Nikita Kucherov back into this year’s mix just in time for the playoffs has stirred the pot. Not because he’s an obvious threat, but because financials are essentially irrelevant in the postseason. Therefore, the Lightning is well over a salary cap designed to force a sense of parity they’ve now pushed past.
Despite not wanting this team to be rewarded for leveraging this loose rule, it’s impossible to avoid recognizing their greatness. With future Hall of Famers like Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos, and Andrei Vasilevskiy steering their ship, it’s easy to understand why they’re better than just good.
That’s exactly why they’ll be the first team to repeat since the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017.
Prediction: Lightning in 5.
Looking Ahead to What’s Next
Fans and clubs alike will still have some less than typical timelines to follow this offseason, as the league continues to play catch-up. Whether we share the same sentiment around who will win this year’s Cup or not, one thing we can surely all agree on is that it will be nice when things are back to normal.
With that in mind, as rare as it is to see a reigning champion repeat the feat, Tampa is poised to call that their new norm.
Disagree? I’m ok with that and you can feel free to proclaim it publicly, too. But don’t tell the Lightning, as the last thing a powerhouse needs is more fuel to drive their dominance. Good luck to Montreal, as they’re the only side that will need it in this one.