The 2021 NHL playoffs are approaching their pinnacle, as the Stanley Cup Final is only a few games away.
There will be no conference champions crowned this year, as the divisional playoff realignment has changed the dynamic of the postseason.
"There are going to be things we always will remember about this season, and one of them is that we never handed the [conference] trophies out," NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer said, per ESPN's Greg Wyshynski.
Still, the chase for the Stanley Cup is on, with two tightly contested semifinals ongoing. The Montreal Canadiens took a surprising 2-1 series lead over the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday night. The New York Islanders, meanwhile, tied up their series with the Tampa Bay Lightning with a 3-2 victory Saturday.
Here's how things stand heading into the final stretch of the semifinal round.
2021 NHL Semifinal Round
No. 2 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 4 Montreal Canadiens
Game 1: Vegas 4, Montreal 1
Game 2: Montreal 3, Vegas 2
Game 3: Montreal 3, Vegas 2
Game 4: Sunday, June 20 at 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Game 5: Tuesday, June 22 at 9 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Game 6: Thursday, June 24 at 8 p.m. ET, USA Network
Game 7: Saturday, 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 2, Tampa Bay 1
Game 2: Tampa Bay 4, New York 2
Game 3: Tampa Bay 2, New York 1
Game 4: New York 3, Tampa Bay 2
Game 5: Monday, June 21 at 8 p.m. ET, USA Network
Game 6: Wednesday, June 23 at 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Game 7: Friday, June 25 at 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
The reigning champion Lightning are looking to return to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in two seasons. Coincidentally, they are playing the same team they bested in last year's Eastern Conference Finals.
After notching a two-game winning streak, however, Tampa stumbled Saturday. The Lightning scored two goals in the third period to make things close, but the Islanders' three-goal barrage in the second was too much to overcome.
It almost wasn't, as New York defenseman Ryan Pulock prevented a goal with seconds left in the final period.
Tampa Bay's path back to the Final isn't going to be easy.
The Golden Knights fell short of reaching the Final last year, losing 4-1 to the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final. Vegas was an overwhelming favorite to advance from its semifinal series just a few days ago, though, holding -118 odds (bet $118 to win $100) according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
Montreal has flipped the series on its head, however, winning two in a row after being blown out in Game 1.
While it's far too early to consider the Canadiens a team of destiny, their postseason run does have a special feel to it.
"Yes, really," center Phillip Danault said, per The Athletic's Arpon Basu. "My team is special."
The Canadiens haven't appeared in the Stanley Cup Final since 1993, but they are no longer the massive underdogs they were entering the series. The updated championship odds are as follows:
Tampa Bay: +160
New York: +500
At this point, it's reasonable to believe that Montreal can make a push into the Final. However, it would be unreasonable to believe that Vegas won't make a series of it. Either way, a tough opponent will be waiting. Any one of the four remaining teams could realistically come out on top, but our best guess is that Tampa Bay rebounds and repeats as Stanley Cup champions.
Prediction: Tampa Bay over Vegas 4-3 in Stanley Cup Final.
Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook and current as of Sunday a.m.
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