NHL Playoffs 2021: Updated Stanley Cup Outlook Before Semifinal Matchups
With no second-round series going the full seven games, there wasn't any Stanley Cup playoff action Friday and Saturday. But things are about to pick back up Sunday, and the stakes will be even larger.
The playoff field is down to four teams. The Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders will open their series Sunday, and the Vegas Golden Knights and Montreal Canadiens will play their Game 1 matchup Monday.
This is the round that would typically be the conference finals. But because of the NHL's four-division realignment for the 2020-21 campaign, the Golden Knights are the only remaining team that is in the Western Conference in a normal season.
With the Stanley Cup semifinals beginning Sunday, here's everything you need to know entering the penultimate round of the playoffs.
Semifinals Bracket, Schedule
No. 2 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 4 Montreal Canadiens
Game 1: Monday at 9 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Game 2: Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Game 3: Friday at 8 p.m. ET, USA Network
Game 4: June 20 at 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Game 5 (if necessary): June 22 at 9 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Game 6 (if necessary): June 24 at 8 p.m. ET, USA Network
Game 7 (if necessary): June 26 at 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
No. 3 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 4 New York Islanders
Game 1: Sunday at 3 p.m. ET, NBC
Game 2: Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Game 3: Thursday at 8 p.m. ET, USA Network
Game 4: Saturday at 8 p.m. ET, USA Network
Game 5 (if necessary): June 21 at 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Game 6 (if necessary): June 23 at 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Game 7 (if necessary): June 25 at 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Can Canadiens Topple Golden Knights, Continue Underdog Run?
It's no surprise the Golden Knights have made it this far in the playoffs. They had a tough path coming out of the West Division, needing to take down both the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche. But Vegas has had plenty of postseason success in its four-year history as an NHL franchise, so it's an experienced team.
However, far fewer people predicted the Canadiens to be one of the final four teams in the playoffs this year. Montreal sneaked into the postseason as the No. 4 seed in the North Division, and then it fell behind 3-1 in its first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Since then, the Habs have won seven straight games, coming back to take down the Maple Leafs and sweeping the Winnipeg Jets in the second round. Can the Canadiens keep it going and become the first team from Canada to win the Stanley Cup since they did so in 1993?
"I always personally like to prove people wrong," Montreal coach Dominique Ducharme said, per NHL.com's Nicholas J. Cotsonika. "When people think that we cannot do something, it's always nice to...it's another layer where you can gain energy or another challenge."
Canadiens goaltender Carey Price is having a remarkable postseason. In 11 games, the 33-year-old has a 1.97 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. Price has been a terrific playoff performer throughout his 14-year NHL career (all with Montreal), and this year is no different.
But Price will face a challenge trying to stop the Golden Knights, who have a deep lineup featuring eight players who have tallied at least seven points this postseason, led by center William Karlsson (four goals and seven assists). And while Vegas may look like the favorite on paper, it knows not to overlook Montreal.
"You're foolish if you look at their record and make a judgment," Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer said, per NHL.com's Tracey Myers.
This will be the first time that Vegas and Montreal will face off in the playoffs. If the Golden Knights win, they will be heading to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time, having previously reached it in their inaugural season in 2017-18. The Canadiens last made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 1993, when they won the Cup.
Lightning, Islanders Set to Face Off in Postseason Rematch
The Stanley Cup semifinals may not be conference finals in the traditional sense, but it will feature a matchup we've seen in the Eastern Conference Final before. In fact, the same two teams met at this point in the postseason last year.
In 2020, the Lightning defeated the Islanders in six games in the Eastern Conference Final, advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, where they beat the Dallas Stars in six games. It marked the second time that Tampa Bay had won the Cup and the first since 2004.
This year, the Lightning are trying to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. And while they weren't among the top teams during the regular season (finishing third in the Central Division), they have been strong again this postseason, impressing in series victories over the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes.
Forward Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos returned from injuries for the playoffs, and they have been Tampa Bay's top two scorers to this point, combining for 31 points through 11 games.
"It's pretty easy when you have Stammer on one side and Kuch on the other side," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said, per NHL.com's Dan Rosen. "You can't cover them all."
However, the Islanders are going to try to just that. They have lost all three postseason series they have had against Tampa Bay. And after coming so close to its first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1984 last year, New York is looking for revenge.
"Obviously, it was a hard-fought series last year and came up short, and I'd say the feeling amongst the team is it was the hardest offseason that we were a part of, just how close we were to accomplishing our goals," Isles forward Matt Martin said, per NHL.com's Tom Gulitti. "So we're excited to have another opportunity at them."
New York has won four Stanley Cups in its history, but those came in consecutive years from 1980-83. If it hopes to end its championship drought, it will need to beat Tampa Bay. And as the Islanders know, that can be a challenging task this deep into the postseason.