Canada

Montreal Canadiens reaches 35th Stanley Cup final

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The Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning are the two National Hockey League (NHL) teams competing in this season’s coveted Stanley Cup after both franchises secured their place in hockey’s biggest game.

Montreal Canadiens is the most successful NHL team in history with 24 Stanley Cup victories from 34 appearances, 35 if you count this latest foray into the final. The Canadiens’ impressive Stanley Cup haul made them the most successful team of all the four major North American sports until the New York Yankees won their 25th World Series in 1999.

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Canadiens defies the odds to reach the 2021 Stanley Cup finals

Despite the Canadiens’ long and illustrious history, this latest Stanley Cup final appearance is their first since way back in 1993. Nobody expected the Canadiens to shine this season, especially when they finished fourth in the North Division, some 18 points behind Toronto Maples Leafs. The Canadiens do not have one of the NHL’s most prolific goal scorers on their roster. Still, everything came together this campaign, with no fewer than six skaters reaching double figures for goals and 12 reaching double figures for assists during the regular season.

It was the Maples Leafs who the Canadiens faced in the North Division First Round. They found themselves trailing 1-3 after Game 4 but rallied to win the next three fixtures, including a brace of overtime wins, to clinch the round 4-3.

They made short work of the Winnipeg Jets in the second round, sweeping them 4-0, which set up a mouth-watering clash against the much-fancied Vegas Golden Knights, the 2018 finalists. The Canadiens lost 1-4 in Game 1 but secured their 35th Stanley Cup place after rallying to win the semifinals 4-2.

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Tampa Bay Lightning hoping for back-to-back titles

The Tampa Bay Lightning are the reigning Stanley Cup champions and are looking to become the first teams since the Pittsburgh Penguins (2015-2016 and 2016-2017) to win back-to-back finals. You have to go back to 1996-1997 and 1997-1998 to find back-to-back winners when the Detroit Red Wings won consecutive Stanley Cups.

Tampa Bay Lightning finished third in the Central Division during the regular season, ending the campaign with a 36-17-3 record. It saw them finish five points behind the Carolina Hurricanes and four points behind the Florida Panthers.

In Braydon Point, the Lightning has a goal machine. Point, who scored the winning goal in the 2020 Stanley Cup final, scored 23 goals and made 25 assists in 56 regular-season games. Point shone during the playoffs, too, finding the goal 14 times and creating six assists from 18 games.

The Lightning defeated the Panthers 4-2 in the First Round before a comprehensive 4-1 victory over the Hurricanes in the second round. This set up a repeat of the 2020 Conference Finals against the New York Islands. It was a thrilling best-of-seven battle between two excellent franchises, but the Lightning got the job done with a 1-0 victory in Game 7 to take the series 4-3.

Much of the Lightning’s playoff success this season comes down to the return of Russian superstar Nikita Kucherov. The 28-year-old wingers missed the entire regular season while recuperating from hip surgery, but he returned with a bang for the playoffs.

Five goals and 22 assists from 18 playoff games is a record that speaks for itself. Kucherov is a phenomenal player who the Canadiens will need to shut out of the game if they want to get their hands on the 2021 Stanley Cup.

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2021 Stanley Cup schedule

Game 1 of a potential seven takes place on June 29, with the teams taking to the ice again on July 1. Game 3 and Game 4 are scheduled for July 3 and July 6, respectively, with July 8, 10, and 12 penciled in should they be needed.

Everything is shaping up to be one of the best Stanley Cups in recent history, with both teams playing attacking hockey.

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