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Stanley Cup Finals Preview

Deep Dive

We’re popping into your inbox for the second time today with an extra Special Edition newsletter on everything you need to know before the Stanley Cup Final begins tonight at 8 p.m. ET. It’s literally hockey night tonight.

June 28, 2021
SOURCE: NHL/GIPHY
SOURCE: NHL/GIPHY

QUOTE OF THE DAY

One of the great rules of hockey is: On the Stanley Cup, all germs are healthy.

New York Times sports columnist George Vecsey (pre-COVID-19, obviously).

🏒 The Stanley Cup Final

SOURCE: NHL.COM

And then there were two. Sixteen of 31 (soon-to-be 32) teams emerged from the shortened but jam-packed regular season to compete in the NHL postseason six weeks ago, and now only two remain in the annual battle for the Stanley Cup: the Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Having first been awarded in 1893, the Stanley Cup is the oldest league championship in North America and is also the most storied. It’s been used as a baptismal font, found at the bottom of a swimming pool, left on the side of a road and traveled the world.

  • The only championship trophy with its own full time “keeper,” the Cup includes the names of every man and woman who have helped a team win it. And sometime in the next two weeks, a new cast of characters will join the Cup’s engraved history.

🏙🌆 A tale of two cities

SOURCE: FRANK GUNN/CANADIAN PRESS

The year was 1993. Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” was on the radio, Jurassic Parkwas in theaters, Justin Bieber hadn’t been born yet and the Montreal Canadiens were Stanley Cup champions.

  • That win — a Game 5 victory over the Los Angeles Kings — was the Canadiens’ 24th championship and marks the last time a Canadian team won the Cup. The country that gave the world the Stanley Cup is itching for it to return home.

The year was 2020. No one was listening to the radio (because Spotify), nothing was in theaters (because pandemic), Justin Bieber was married and the Tampa Bay Lightning were Stanley Cup champs.

  • The team’s second championship (the first came in 2004) was won in a pandemic-forced bubble in Edmonton, without live fans and the comforts of home. A repeat win would give the reigning champs the fanfare they mostlymissed out on in 2020.

🇨🇦 The underdogs

SOURCE: RYAN REMIORZ/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The journey: The Habs aren’t supposed to be here. After squeaking into fourth place in the North Division and ending the regular season on a five-game losing skid, they were supposed tolose in the first round to their biggest rivals and the North’s top team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Instead, they won the series in Game 7.

  • They were supposed to lose to the Winnipeg Jets in the second round, after the Jets swept the Edmonton Oilers and the dream duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. But, the Habs swept the Jets.
  • And in the conference finals, they were supposed to lose to the Vegas Golden Knights, a favorite to win the Cup before the season even started. The Habs won the series 4-2, setting up the underdogs for their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in almost 30 years.

Difference maker: Yes, hockey is a team sport, but a lot of the Habs’ success can be attributed to one guy: goalie Carey Price. Often the best player on the ice, the future Hall-of-Famer has an unreal postseason save percentage, superhuman reflexes and the coolness of a cucumber.

Impact player: The lack of a legitimate superstar means that the Canadiens’ front line players share the glory, but there is one future superstar: Cole Caufield. The rookie has made a name for himself thanks to defining plays like his overtime goal against the Maple Leafs.

Leader of the pack: Captain Shea Weber leads the Habs stoically from the blue line, and that strong defense has been one of the team’s keys to success during this postseason run. The Habs’ D has shut down scoring stars like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Mark Stone, largely due to Weber’s influence.

⚡️ The favorites

SOURCE: JASON FRANSON/CANADIAN PRESS

The journey: The Tampa Bay Lightning finished the regular season third in the super tight Central Division, setting them up for an intrastate round one against the Florida Panthers. The Bolts took the series 4-2, before completing a “gentleman’s sweep” of the Carolina Hurricanes in round two.

  • Tampa's last series against the plucky New York Islanders was their toughest (and probably the most similar matchup to what they’ll face in Montreal). The Bolts won the series in seven games, including a 8–0 Game 5 win.

Difference maker: If anyone can give Carey Price a run for his money, it’s Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’s the best in the league, winning the Vezina Trophy (awarded to the season’s best goalie) in 2019 and has led ’tendy wins for three straight seasons.

Impact player: Brayden Point lives up to his name. He had a nine-game scoring streak over the last two series and has a knack for finding goals when needed (hence his “Mr. Clutch” nickname in the locker room).

Leader of the pack: Captain Steven Stamkos was one of those once-in-a-generation talents when he was drafted first overall in 2008. And although he’s struggled with injuries over the last few years, a second Cup would cement his place in the history books alongside peers like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. No pressure.

🏆 The series

SOURCE: SEAN DOUGHERTY/USA TODAY SPORTS

As much as we’d like to predict a winner,the Canadiens have taught us to expect the unexpected. We think this series will feature the best goaltending of all time, we assume the Lightning will light up the scoreboard, we hopethe Canadiens can restore the faith of a nation in its national pastime. But we’re not putting money on it just yet. First, let’s watch some hockey.

  • Both teams are on Eastern Standard Time, so the first six games of the series are all set for 8 p.m. ET (Game 7, if necessary, is a 7 p.m. ET start). Tune into Game 1 tonight on NBCSN in the U.S. and Sportsnet in Canada. We’re on the air!