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NHL Playoffs 2021: Stanley Cup Semifinals Schedule and Predictions

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IJune 18, 2021

Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) makes a save against the New York Islanders during the second period of Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinals, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Uniondale, N.Y. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

After getting off to a slow start in the Stanley Cup semifinals, the Tampa Bay Lightning are on a roll. And it's because of their stellar defense and the terrific play of goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.

On Thursday night, the Lightning defeated the New York Islanders 2-1, with the road victory giving them a 2-1 series lead. Tampa Bay is now two wins away from returning to the Stanley Cup Final, where it would be looking to win a championship for the second straight year.

The Lightning are on the road again in Game 4 before returning home to host Game 5.

In the other Stanley Cup semifinal series, the Vegas Golden Knights and Montreal Canadiens are tied at one. After the first two games were played in Las Vegas, the series is shifting to Montreal for Games 3 and 4.

Here's a look at the schedule for this round, followed by predictions for the two teams that will end up in the Stanley Cup Final.

                            

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2nd-Round Results, Schedule

No. 2 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 4 Montreal Canadiens

Game 1: Vegas won 4-1
Game 2: Montreal won 3-2
Game 3: Friday at 8 p.m. ET, USA Network
Game 4: Sunday at 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Game 5: Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Game 6 (if necessary): Thursday 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: New York won 2-1.
Game 2: Tampa Bay won 4-2
Game 3: Tampa Bay won 2-1
Game 4: Saturday at 8 p.m. ET, USA Network
Game 5: Monday at 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Game 6 (if necessary): Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Game 7 (if necessary): June 25 at 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network

                 

Predictions

The Golden Knights and Lightning were the clear favorites to advance from the Stanley Cup semifinals heading into the round. If either the Canadiens or Islanders (both No. 4 seeds) moved on, it would be viewed as an upset.

It's still possible that Montreal and/or New York could win, as both series are young. However, Vegas and Tampa Bay remain the favorites, and a matchup between the two could be imminent in the Stanley Cup Final.

While these series could remain competitive, expect the Golden Knights and Lightning to be playing for the Cup.

For Vegas, it will need to find a way to bounce back from a Game 2 loss at home. A big reason why Montreal has made it this far is goaltender Carey Price's play. He continues to excel, holding the Golden Knights to two goals from 31 shots in Game 2.

But Vegas has a strong, balanced offense, and it could be difficult for Price and Montreal's defense to keep it held down for long. The Golden Knights just need to generate more offense early in games.

"For whatever reason, our starts in the playoffs haven't been good enough," Vegas forward Mark Stone said, per NHL.com's Nicholas J. Cotsonika. "You know, we've been burned before. We got burned again tonight. You can't go down 2-0 and expect to win the game."

Expect things to go better for the Golden Knights in Montreal, where they will need to win at least one of the next two games to avoid facing a 3-1 deficit when they return home for Game 5. That won't be an issue, though. Vegas will at least have the series tied by that point and will go on to win it in six games.

Since the Lightning lost Game 1 at home, they have bounced back by outscoring the Islanders 6-3 over Games 2 and 3. Tampa Bay has allowed two or fewer goals in six of its past eight games, and it's given up only five total goals to New York through three contests.

If Vasilevskiy and the Lightning defense continues to be this stingy, they will remain tough to beat.

"Tampa's good all around," Islanders forward Matt Martin said, per Vin A. Cherwoo of the Associated Press. "They're the defending Stanley Cup champions, and they know what it takes to win. ... They know what they have to do in their D zone."

While the Lightning will be looking to repeat, the Golden Knights will be seeking the first Cup in franchise history. It should be a long, competitive series to complete the 2020-21 season.

Prediction: Vegas and Tampa Bay advance to Stanley Cup Final.

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