NBC Sports’ Kenny Albert said it best on the broadcast: “Lightning strikes twice.”
The Tampa Bay Lightning won their second consecutive Stanley Cup in a 1-0 Game 5 win Wednesday, as Tampa Bay defeated the Montreal Canadiens in five games in the 2021 Stanley Cup Finals.
This is the third Stanley Cup in the franchise’s history, with the first one coming in 2004 and the second coming last year in the bubble. The Lightning are the first team since the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017 to win back-to-back titles.
Ross Colton opened and ended the scoring for the Lightning in the 2nd period. After a scrum along the boards, Ryan McDonagh came up with the puck on the blue line and dished it to his defensive partner David Savard. Savard then placed a perfect pass to the stick of Colton at the top of the crease for the easy tap-in goal.
Carey Price was stellar to keep Montreal's hopes alive, but the Habs' offense could not figure out Andrei Vasilevskiy, who made 22 saves in the win, and the Lightning secured the 1-0 victory and the Stanley Cup.
Vasilevskiy was sensational in the postseason, and was rewarded with the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs. After becoming the only goaltender to have three straight shutouts in series clinching games, the Russian goaltender did it one better by stopping all 22 shots from the Canadiens in Game 5. He finished the postseason with five shutouts.
The defense-first style of the Canadiens was a recipe for success through the first three rounds, but the skill and depth of the Lightning overpowered the Habs. The Lightning dominated the Habs in Game 1, winning 5-1 thanks to Nikita Kucherov’s three-point performance, including two goals in the third period.
The Canadiens answered in Game 2, outshooting the Lightning 43-23 and controlling most of the game. However, a highlight-reel, diving goal in the last seconds of the second period by Blake Coleman gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead and on the back of Vasilevskiy’s 42 saves, the Lightning won 3-1, taking the first two games of the series in Tampa.
In Montreal, the Lightning got out to a fast start in Game 3, scoring two goals in the first four minutes of both the first and second periods, building a 4-1 lead before the halfway point of the game. The Bolts held on to win 6-3, putting them one game shy of raising the Cup.
However the Canadiens wouldn’t go down easy. After exchanging two goals a piece in the first 60 minutes, Josh Anderson scored his second goal of the game in OT, diving at a loose puck and beating Vasilevskiy for the 3-2 win, sending the series back down south to Tampa.
Tampa’s road to the finals didn’t come as easy as some thought. In the first round, Tampa battled with their in-state rival, the Florida Panthers, winning the series 4-2. The Bolts then took on the top team in the East, the Carolina Hurricanes, in the second round, defeating the Canes in five games.
The semifinals proved to be the Lightning’s toughest test, as the New York Islanders took the Lightning to seven games. A second-period, shorthanded goal by Yanni Gourde in Game 7 proved to be the game- and series-winner, as Vasilevskiy stopped all 18 shots he saw in a 1-0 victory to punch the Bolts’ ticket back to the finals.
For the Canadiens, it brings an end to a Cinderella run. Montreal entered the postseason with the worst record of any playoff team. They were seen as heavy underdogs against the North Division’s top team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. With the Leafs up 3-1 in the series, it appeared as the Habs’ season was ending, but the Canadiens stormed back, winning three straight elimination games and took the series 4-3. Montreal made quick work of the Winnipeg Jets in the second round with a sweep, setting up a date with the Vegas Golden Knights in the semifinals.
The Canadiens were again seen as major underdogs against Vegas, who had the second-best record in the league. After Vegas won Game 1 in dominant fashion, Montreal won four of the next five games, with Artturi Lehkonen potting an overtime game-winner in Game 6 to send the Canadiens to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1993. The Habs held Vegas’ captain Mark Stone to zero points in the series and shocked the Golden Knights with the upset.
For the Lightning, Kucherov continued to dominate in the postseason. After missing the entire regular season, Kucherov led all skaters with 24 assists and 32 points, just one season removed from scoring 34 points in 25 games. Brayden Point’s 14 goals led all skaters and Vasilevskiy finished with a goals against and save percentage.
Despite the Stanley Cup loss, there are a ton of positives for a Canadiens team full of promising, young forwards. Young phenom forward Cole Caufield, who signed his contract with the Canadiens in March after his Hobey Baker-winning season with the University of Wisconsin, had 12 points in his first postseason.
Second-year center Nick Suzuki led the Canadiens with seven goals and 16 postseason points after a 41-point regular season. And Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the No. 3 pick in the 2018 draft, had five goals in the postseason.
After a long, hard-fought postseason, the Canadiens now turn to the offseason, with the NHL expansion draft, NHL entry draft and the beginning of free agency all starting in the next couple of weeks. But the Lightning have some jet skis and boats to ride in celebration before turning to the 2021-22 season.