Can a Canadian-based team win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1993? The fun will begin on Monday night, with the Canadiens travelling to Tampa Bay to face the Lightning. Later today, our writers will give you their Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe picks, so you might have a pretty good idea of how likely the Habs can finish their improbable run.
I'll let you in on my pick before then: Tampa Bay in 6, with Brayden Point as the Conn Smythe winner. My rationale is simple: I've been picking Tampa to win each series so far. Also, I picked Tampa Bay to reach the final before the season started and again before the playoffs started, to be consistent (with Colorado winning the Stanley Cup). I was also thinking that Nikita Kucherov might return for the start of the playoffs (which he did), his absence hurting the Lightning a little during the regular season but giving them the kind of boost that no other team would have received with its trade deadline additions. So it makes sense that Carolina would win the division, but Tampa would come out of that division during the playoffs.
Their Stanley Cup Final opponent was a team that I didn't predict would make it at all. Before the season, I picked Montreal to finish 5th in a tight division (they finished 4th). But that one placing is the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs. Perhaps we shouldn't have been that surprised about Montreal, who finished second in the league with a 54.5 SAT% (Colorado was the runaway winner with a 59.0 SAT%). Even though I said last weekend that I thought Carey Price stole Game 3 against Vegas (which I still believe is true), they looked like the better team in Game 4 (which they lost) and deserve full marks for their series win against the Golden Knights.
Some Habs news: Dominique Ducharme expects to return behind the bench for Game 3 of the final when the series moves to Montreal. Even in a relatively short stint, I wonder if Luke Richardson's stock as a potential head coach somewhere has increased.
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