Stanley Cup Finals Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montréal Canadiens
It’s the Stanley Cup Finals we all expected. (Sorry, I just had to make sure that every single preview of this matchup anywhere started with this joke).
In one corner, the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning, who dispatched the speedy upstart Florida Panthers, folded the paper tiger Carolina Hurricanes, and outlasted the New York Islanders on their way here. In the other, a Habs team that ranked 18th in the league in the regular season, who ripped out the hearts of millions of Toronto Maple Leafs fans, crushed the Winnipeg Jets into a small cube, and out-duelled the Golden Knights.
In terms of combat clichés, this is more David and Goliath than Clash of the Titans.
Whether you think Montréal is on a torrid fluke run or is finally reaching their potential, there’s no doubt that they face a steep uphill battle against the defending champions. Tampa Bay is only the fourth team in the salary cap era to qualify for the Stanley Cup Final in consecutive seasons, and is heavily favoured to become the second to win back-to-back. While they haven’t necessarily been consistent from game to game (they have a positive expected goals for percentage (xGF%) in only half of their playoff outings entering the Final), when they’re on, they’re unstoppable. Above all, the Habs have made their way to the final by finding ways to scrape out close games. They’ve played nine games this post-season in which the gap between them and their opponent was less than one expected goal and won seven of them, and have won 12 of 14 games in which they registered an xGF% over 40 percent.
As I have with all the other playoff matchups so far, this will be a mix of macro-level stat overview (using TopDownHockey's models) and tactical micro-level analysis using LogiqBets' regular season numbers and Corey Sznajder's manually tracked playoff data.
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