The Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens will play Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on Monday.
The Lightning are trying to win the Stanley Cup for the second straight season after defeating the Dallas Stars in six games in the Final last season at Rogers Place in Edmonton, a neutral site with no fans in attendance due to the coronavirus pandemic. Montreal is attempting to win it for the first time since 1993.
“There’s a different buzz knowing we’re opening this in front of our home fans,” Lightning forward Blake Coleman said. “We know the city is behind us. It’s electric around here.”
Tampa Bay is the fourth defending champion since 2000 to return to the Cup Final the following season, joining the Pittsburgh Penguins (2016, 2017), Detroit Red Wings (2008, 2009) and New Jersey Devils (2000, 2001).
The Penguins were the only one of those teams to repeat as champions.
“One of the first thoughts for a lot of guys when we had the Cup and were with the Cup and spending time with the Cup was, we can’t wait to do this again because it’s so amazing,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “That has been the mindset all season long.”
The Canadiens are standing in their way after finishing 18th in the regular season in points percentage (.527). Montreal has won 11 of its past 13 games in the playoffs.
“We’re just going to stay in the moment, to be honest,” Montreal captain Shea Weber said. “We’re in the position we want to be, but we’re not at the end result.”
Teams that win Game 1 are 61-20 (.753) winning a best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final series. However, each of the past three Stanley Cup champions lost Game 1 before going on to win the series (Washington Capitals, 2018; St. Louis Blues, 2019; Lightning, 2020).
Here are 3 keys for Game 1:
1. Goaltending battle
Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy called it a “big personal challenge” to play against Canadiens goalie Carey Price in the Cup Final.
Price also gave credit to Vasilevskiy for how he’s played and battled in the Lightning’s return trip to the Final.
Each has won 12 games. Vasilevskiy has a 1.99 goals-against average, .936 save percentage and four shutouts. Price has a 2.02 GAA, .934 save percentage and one shutout.
“Goaltending is a big part of this series,” Lightning forward Brayden Point said. “It’s been a big part of the playoffs for both teams and I don’t know if there is an edge one way or the other.”
2. Armia’s status, special teams
The Lightning are 37.7 percent on the power play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Canadiens haven’t allowed a power-play goal in 13 straight games, going 30-for-30 on the penalty kill in that stretch. They’re 93.5 percent on the PK in the playoffs.
A concern, however, is that Montreal may be without forward Joel Armia, who is a game-time decision after being placed in NHL COVID-19 protocol Sunday.
Montreal assistant Luke Richardson said after the morning skate that Armia was cleared from protocol and will fly to Tampa from Montreal.
Armia has played the second most shorthanded minutes among Montreal forwards (33:03) behind center Phillip Danault (44:14). He has scored two shorthanded goals.
Jake Evans, who hasn’t played since June 2 because of a concussion, would replace Armia in the lineup.
3. Danault’s next matchup
Danault has been a big reason why the Canadiens have been able to shut down some of the NHL’s top forwards in the playoffs, including Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Nikolaj Ehlers and Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets, and Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone of the Vegas Golden Knights.
His next challenge with linemates Brendan Gallagher and Artturi Lehkonen might be the toughest, shutting down or at least limiting the Lightning’s top line, of Point, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat.
Point is the leading goal scorer in the playoffs with 14. Kucherov leads the playoffs with 27 points (five goals, 22 assists).
“I know he’s good in the face-off circle, he competes very hard and they’re responsible,” Point said of Danault. “[Montreal’s top line is] good with the puck. They don’t fuel your rush too much. They don’t turn the puck over and they make you earn every inch. So, if that’s the matchup, it’s going to be a tough one.”
Canadiens projected lineup
Artturi Lehkonen — Phillip Danault — Brendan Gallagher
Tyler Toffoli — Nick Suzuki — Cole Caufield
Paul Byron — Jesperi Kotkaniemi — Josh Anderson
Corey Perry — Eric Staal — Jake Evans
Ben Chiarot — Shea Weber
Joel Edmundson — Jeff Petry
Erik Gustafsson — Jon Merrill
Scratched: Cale Fleury, Alexander Romanov, Lukas Vejdemo, Laurent Dauphin, Jesse Ylonen, Alex Belzile, Xavier Ouellet, Otto Leskinen, Michael Frolik, Brett Kulak, Tomas Tatar, Cayden Primeau, Charlie Lindgren, Michael McNiven
COVID-19 protocol: Joel Armia
Lightning projected lineup
Ondrej Palat — Brayden Point — Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn — Anthony Cirelli — Steven Stamkos
Barclay Goodrow — Yanni Gourde — Blake Coleman
Ross Colton — Tyler Johnson — Pat Maroon
Victor Hedman — Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh — Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev — David Savard
Scratched: Luke Schenn, Alex Barre-Boulet , Mathieu Joseph, Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh, Gemel Smith, Mitchell Stephens, Daniel Walcott, Fredrik Claesson, Cal Foote, Ben Thomas, Christopher Gibson, Spencer Martin
Evans has missed the past nine games since sustaining a concussion on a hit from Jets center Mark Scheifele in Game 1 of the second round. … The Lightning are expected to use the same lineup they used in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals, a 1-0 win against the New York Islanders on Friday.