The Stanley Cup Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Montreal Canadiens got off to a lopsided start.
On opening night Tampa came confident and poised, while the Habs looked like they had been reading some of the more favourable press coverage about them. Perhaps a little overwhelmed by the moment, the Canadiens drifted a nautical mile from their game plan while handing the Lightning a 5-1 win.
By Game 2 the Habs were back to their structured system. For about 35 minutes the game was tighter than a freshly chinked punt. But then the entire five-man unit wearing red, white and blue had a brain cramp at the end of the second period. The puck ended up behind Price and it was the turning point in a 3-1 loss.
Coach Dominique Ducharme, who had been sidelined by COVID-19, was back behind the bench for game 3. His return was expected to light a fire under the Habs but they came out flat and the Lightning won 6-3 to take a 3-0 lead in the series. Cue the nightmares about brooms and lightning bolts.
The coach gave his team a jolt by juggling his line-up. Brett Kulak and rookie Alexander Romanov were brought in for their rested legs on defence, and defensive specialist Jake Evans came in for Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Fans had a hard time swallowing the decision to sit the young centre.
The adjustments seemed to be working early when Josh Anderson opened the scoring at 15:39 of the first period. Tampa equalized in the second, and the teams exchanged goals in the third. Overtime would be required.
There was a giant fly in the ointment. Late in the third, Shea Weber took a 4-minute high sticking penalty. The Habs would have to kill three minutes during sudden death overtime. It seemed impossible, but the penalty kill was a stalwart for the Habs in this run. Montreal did indeed escape unscathed, and at 3:57 of overtime Josh Anderson scored his second of the game to win 3-2.
The series headed back to Tampa with Tropical Storm Elsa expected to greet them there. Game 5 was a goaltender’s duel, but it was Conn Smythe winner Andrei Vasilevsky that came out on top. The Lightning defeated the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 to clinch the series in five games and win back-to-back Stanley Cups.
Fans are heartbroken, but there is no shame in this run for the Habs. They fell backwards into the playoffs after a regular season chocked full of adversity. Core players nursed significant injuries throughout the playoffs. Two COVID-19 scares interrupted their run.
In days to follow, we’ll hear which players will require surgeries and treatment. But through all of it the Canadiens delivered four entertaining, hard-fought series to fans who have been desperate for a run like this for years.
What does this mean for the Montreal Canadiens? Was this just a fluke? Will they struggle to even make the playoffs next year as some are suggesting? Or has GM Marc Bergevin found success in his reset? Can veterans Carey Price and Shea Weber continue to perform at a high enough level to make another run or two while the kids are just warming up? Will important free agents return?
There’s little time to consider much of it, because the off-season has already begun. The Seattle Kraken expansion draft is days away, to be followed by the entry draft and then free agency. Bergevin must pivot quickly away from his grieving over the missed 25th Cup to filling holes that can improve the Habs chances next year.
The fans have a taste and there is no going back.
The NBA Draft is just 17 days away and the Toronto Raptors will have the fortune of drafting 4th overall. The top pick is all but decided as most pundits predict the Detroit Pistons will select Forward/Guard Cade Cunningham.
Picks 2-4, however, are a little less certain. Any of those three may be wearing a Raptors jersey on July 29th.
Evan Mobley is a 7-foot centre that could shore up the Raptors middle should he drop to number four. Jalen Suggs, a guard, is a complete player that fans would love to see in Toronto. Jalen Green is another guard who would bring consistent production, if not the same all-around game that Suggs would bring.
It’s nice to be shopping in the sexy aisle.
Blue Jays Babble
One week after kicking off the trade season the Blue Jays were at it again. This time they sent 1st baseman Rowdy Tellez to the Milwaukee Brewers for right-handed relief pitcher Trevor Richards and Triple A starter Bowden Francis.
The trade strengthens the relief pitching corps without giving up a roster player as Tellez had been unable to secure a spot once George Springer was activated from injury.
The Jays are expected to add an ace to their relief group and hope to strengthen their rotation before the trade deadline. Toronto is lurking around 3rd place in the American League East but look for them to solidify their group and make a playoff push.
Like Andy Warhol said, “The idea of waiting for something makes it more exciting.”