Hockey’s most decorated team will take on the league’s defending champion in what will be a fiery Stanley Cup Final set to begin Monday.
The Montreal Canadiens are looking to further extend their league record of most Stanley Cup wins to 24 as they travel south to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are seeking back-to-back championships, joining the elite group of just nine teams that were ever able to win consecutive cups.
“They’re going to get the best team that they’ve played against so far, and we’re going to get the best team that we’ve played against so far,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “You don’t get to the finals by luck.”
Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos brings the puck up the ice against the New York Islanders during the first period of Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinals, Wednesday, June 23, 2021, in Uniondale, N.Y. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
The Habs would certainly agree with that.
Pegged as the underdogs heading into playoffs, Montreal faced elimination by the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 5 of the first round only to bounce back, going 11-2 to reach the finals. After overcoming the Winnipeg Jets in the second round, the Canadiens swept the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Finals with hopes of becoming the first team from Canada to win a cup since 1993.
“There were ups and downs this year, but the belief in this group has never wavered, never changed. We always knew this was possible. We just did what we were capable of doing,” Canadiens assistant captain Brendan Gallagher said.
Tampa Bay beat the Florida Panthers (4-2) and the Carolina Hurricanes (4-1) to advance to the Eastern Conference Final, where it faced its biggest threat against Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders. The Isles would survive elimination in Game 6 only to fall in Game 7.
Montreal Canadiens’ Eric Staal, Ben Chiarot and Corey Perry, left to right, celebrate their victory with goaltender Carey Price following overtime of Game 6 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Thursday, June 24, 2021 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
“For us, they’re a roadblock,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of the Habs. “And we’re a determined group to go in there and see another team we haven’t played. But it’s clear by watching them on TV how good they are and how they’ve got their mojo going and led by their goaltender (Carey Price). It’s going to be a fun series.”
The Lightning have a 2-1 playoff series edge over Montreal, including a six-game, second-round win in their previous meeting in 2015. Montreal is 2-8-2 in its past 12 meetings and 0-5-1 at Tampa Bay since a 2-1 overtime win on April 1, 2017.
The Canadiens will be without interim coach Dominique Ducharme for their first two games after he was forced to self-isolate after testing positive for COVID.
Here’s what else you need to know about the teams.
SCHEDULE (All times Eastern)
Game 1: Mon. June 28: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 2: Wed. June 30: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 3: Fri. July 2: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. (NBC / Peacock)
Game 4: Mon. July 5: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. (NBC / Peacock)
Game 5 (if necessary): Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. (NBC / Peacock)
Game 6 (if necessary): Fri. July 9: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. (NBC / Peacock)
Game 7 (if necessary): Sun. July 11: Canadiens at Lightning, 7 p.m. (NBC / Peacock)
PROJECTED LINEUP (via NHL.com)
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
Artturi Lehkonen — Phillip Danault — Brendan Gallagher
Tyler Toffoli — Nick Suzuki — Cole Caufield
Paul Byron — Jesperi Kotkaniemi — Josh Anderson
Jake Evans — Eric Staal — Corey Perry
Ben Chiarot — Shea Weber
Joel Edmundson — Jeff Petry
Jon Merrill — Erik Gustafsson
The Associated Press contributed to this report.