For a second-straight season, the Tampa Bay Lightning will get a chance to play for the Stanley Cup, while the New York Islanders come one round short.
The defending champions punched their ticket back to the Stanley Cup Final on Friday night, as the Lightning finished off their Stanley Cup Semifinals series with a 1-0 win over the Islanders in Game 7 at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay.
The lone goal of Friday evening came off the stick of forward Yanni Gourde while playing a man down.
With teammate Barclay Goodrow in the box serving a cross-checking penalty early in the second period, the Lightning went to work on the penalty kill and possessed the puck in the Islanders zone. Forward Anthony Cirelli carried the puck into the corner, drawing the attention of three Islanders defenders.
While Cirelli allowed his teammates to change, Gourde came flying in off the bench and into a scoring position all by himself. Cirelli's pass to Gourde was a perfect one, and Gourde wasted no time firing a quick shot over the glove hand of goalie Semyon Varlamov.
With a chance to return to the Stanley Cup Final, the Lightning dominated the Islanders for most of the game, outshooting New York by a 31-18 total. The Islanders attempted to make a late push in the third period, but Tampa Bay did a good job only allowing seven shots to get to goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
As for Vasilevskiy, the 2021 Vezina Trophy finalist finished the night pitching an 18-save shutout, giving him his fourth shutout of the postseason. The 26-year-old netminder has been excellent for the Lightning in the playoffs, posting a 12-6 record in 18 games played with a 1.99 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage.
While Vasilevskiy has been consistently one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, he's also been one of the more clutch goalies when it comes playoff time. Dating back to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, Vasilevskiy has pitched a shutout in four-straight series-clinching games, making him the first goalie in NHL history to accomplish this feat.
Leading the way offensively for the Lightning through the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs has been Nikita Kucherov, who missed the entire 2020-21 regular season following offseason hip surgery. In 18 games this postseason, the 28-year-old has five goals and 22 assists for 27 points, which is seven points better than teammate Brayden Point.
Kucherov was a big question mark for the Lightning heading into Game 7 due to an injury, but he managed to dress for Tampa Bay's win, registering two shots on goal in 16:49 of total ice-time.
Speaking of Point, the 25-year-old is, far and away, the leading goal scorer of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 14 goals in 18 games. Point did not score in Friday night's win over the Islanders, which ended a nine-game goal scoring streak in the postseason, marking the second-longest such streak in NHL history.
Five of the top-six scorers in the NHL during these playoffs have all come from the Lightning, as Alex Killorn and Steven Stamkos sit tied for third in the league with 17 points in 18 games. Sitting tied with Vegas Golden Knights forward William Karlsson at fifth is defenseman Victor Hedman, who has 16 points (1+15) through 18 games this postseason.
Now the stage is set for the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, which will feature the Lightning matching up with the Montreal Canadiens, starting with Game 1 on Monday night in Tampa Bay.
The Lightning get back to the Stanley Cup Final in 2021 after taking care of business against their interstate rival, Florida Panthers in Round 1 in six games. Following that series, Tampa Bay easily rolled through the Carolina Hurricanes, winning that series in five games.
After losing Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals to the Islanders, the Lightning never found themselves trailing in the series again. However, wins in the series did not come too easy, as the Islanders played a number of games closely to the end, with the exception of Game 5 in Tampa Bay.
Despite losing a 2-0 lead in Game 6 and losing in overtime on Long Island, the Lightning never backed down in Game 7.
As for the Canadiens, they were able to punch their ticket to the Final on Thursday with a 3-2 overtime win over the Golden Knights at the Bell Centre in Montreal. It was winger Artturi Lehkonen who was the hero for Montreal, as he scored the overtime game-winning, series-clinching goal to send the Canadiens to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1993.
The last time the Canadiens played for the Stanley Cup, they were able to defeat Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings in five games to capture their 23rd Stanley Cup title in franchise history. 28 years later, still no Canadian-based NHL team has been able to hoist the Stanley Cup in celebration.
Montreal fought its way to the Stanley Cup Final with 11 wins in the team's last 13 games played. After trailing 3-1 in their first round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Canadiens were able to string together three-straight wins and knock off their North Division rival. In Round 2, Montreal took care of the Winnipeg Jets in four-straight games, earning the team a spot in the NHL's Semifinals Round.
Just like the Lightning, the Canadiens never found themselves trailing in the series after a Game 1 loss to the Golden Knights in Vegas. Montreal ended up winning Games 2 and 3, and then won Games 5 and 6 after Vegas stole a win in Game 4 to tie the series at 2-2.
Montreal may not be the highest-scoring team of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they have gotten contributions from all over the ice and throughout the lineup.
Tyler Toffoli happens to be the leading scorer for the Canadiens through 17 games with five goals and nine assists for 14 points. Right behind Toffoli is young center Nick Suzuki, who has been sensational with 13 points (5+8) in 17 games played.
To start the playoffs, rookie winger Cole Caufield was a healthy scratch for the Canadiens for Games 1 and 2 against the Maple Leafs. However, the 20-year-old has become a spark plug for this Montreal lineup since then, and is currently tied for third on the team in scoring with nine points (4+5) in 15 games. All four of his goals came in Montreal's series with the Golden Knights.
Meanwhile, the real star for the Canadiens has been veteran goaltender Carey Price, who has been a huge reason for Montreal making it as far as the Stanley Cup Final. The 33-year-old has played at a Conn Smythe Trophy level throughout the postseason with a 12-5 record to go along with a 2.02 goals-against average, a .934 save percentage and a shutout. He sits second in the NHL this postseason in goals-against average and save percentage for goalies to have played in, at least, 10 games, only trailing Vasilevskiy by minimal margins.
Faceoff for Game 1 on Monday is set for 8 p.m. ET at Amalie Arena.