In sports, everything is unknown. There always are upsets, as well as expected victories. Sports are one of the most unpredictable things, and the 2020-2021 playoffs were a great example of that.
June 28, 2021. The Stanley Cup playoffs reached their final series in which the Tampa Bay Lightning faced off against the Montreal Canadiens for the Stanley Cup Trophy. A Stanley Cup with 2 very interesting cup runs. 2 teams with very different runs to the Cup. The first team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, was coming off of a Stanley Cup run the year prior. Their first series was an exciting matchup against the Florida Panthers. A Florida Panthers team that is considered to be their best team of all time. The series began with a bang as a Tampa Bay Lightning forward, Brayden Point, scored a goal with minutes left in the 3rd period to give the Lightning a Game 1 victory with a 5-4 win. After a dominating Game 2 affair vs. Florida, Game 3 was played in Tampa Bay. The Lightning looked to take a 3-0 lead in the series until the Panthers stole a game in overtime as the Lightning blew a 2 goal lead. Needing a win from splitting the series, the Lightning put up 6 goals in Game 3 to win 6-2, and they followed that up with a series 4-0 series clincher in Game 6 to send the Lightning to the second round, in which they faced the Carolina Hurricanes.
While the Lightning were cup favorites again this year, the Montreal Canadiens couldn’t have been any different. The 4 seed in the Canadian division, which was regarded as the worst division that year, was the Canadian division. A Canadiens team that if it wasn’t for the division that they played in, they wouldn’t have even made it to the playoffs. Their first-round opponent was against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who required winning a playoff series after recent first-round exits. After the Canadiens won a surprising Game 1 victory, the Maple Leafs came back to take a 3-1 commanding lead, 1 win away from advancing to the second round. What already had happened was what everyone expected, in which the Canadiens would have a reasonable effort but fall to the superior star-studded lineup of the Maple Leafs. Nobody expected that the Canadiens would win 3 straight games to shock the NHL by beating the Maple Leafs in Game 7, 3-1, and advance the Canadiens to the second round.
Next for the Lightning, they played the Carolina Hurricanes. When the Lightning played the Hurricanes in the regular season, every game they played was close, and 3 of them went to overtime. After taking a 2-0 series lead, the Lightning, the Hurricanes, who were trying to avoid going down 3-0 in the series, won Game 3 in overtime to take the series to a 2-1 series lead for the Lightning. Game 4 was set to be the biggest game of the series. Game 4 was set to change the entire series. If the Lightning won, they most likely would win the series, but if Carolina won, they would be tied up in the series, heading back to home ice. After a 1-1 first period, the Hurricanes jumped out to a 4-2 lead in the middle of the second. The Lightning weren’t done when they put up 3 more goals in the 2nd period as they jumped out to a 5-4 lead and extended it to a 6-4 lead to win Game 4. The Lightning finished off the series with a 2-0 shutout in Game 5. Next for the Lightning came the New York Islanders, who they played last year in the eastern conference final.
In this series, every game was close for the first 3 games, but with a 2-1 series lead, the Lightning looked to put the series away. In Game 4, The Islanders had a 1 goal lead with 5 seconds left in the game. With a wide-open net, which would have tied the game, Islanders defense Ryan Pulock made one of the best saves of the entire season, running into the net and blocking a shot to win Game 4. The series was tied up 2-2, and Game 5 was a huge momentum game for both teams. The game was expected to be close, but after a 3 goal first period for the Lightning, they kept adding to their lead by destroying the Islanders in Game 5, 8-0. The series didn’t end without a push, as the 2 teams were set for a Game 7 matchup. The Lightning hadn’t played in a Game 7 since the eastern conference finals 3 years ago. In this game, 1 goal was scored, a short-handed goal scored by Yanni Gourde clinched a Stanley cup finals berth for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In Montreal, they still were considered a team whose run to the cup wouldn’t last much longer. Montreal had different plans, though, when playing against the Winnipeg Jets. Montreal, who seemed to be unstoppable, ran through the Jets with a 4-0 sweep, as they won Game 4 in overtime 3-2 vs. the Jets. Things didn’t run as easy for them as they matched up against the Vegas Golden Knights in their next series. The Knights had just come back from a 0-2 deficit versus the cup favorite Colorado Avalanche to win 4 straight and match up against the Montreal Canadiens, who had won 7 in a row in the western conference final. This series was back and forth, with 4 of the games being a 1 goal game. With a chance in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead, Golden Knights goalie Marc Andre Fleury pulled one of the worst mistakes of all time by the lead that blew the game and ended up blowing the series. After Marc Andre Fleury blew Game 3, Vegas won Game 4, and then they followed it up with losing Game 5 and then losing Game 6, 3-2, advancing the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1993.
The matchup was set, and on June 28 the series began with a bang as the Lightning took Game 1 with a 5-1 win in which they commanded the entire game. Game 2 was controlled by the Canadiens, as they outshot the Lightning 43-23, but the Lightning won the game 3-1, as Andre Vasilevskiy stole the game to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead in the series. For Montreal, they got to play on home ice, needing to win a game to avoid going down 3-0 in the series. Game 3, a game in which the Lightning won 6-3, and gave the Lightning a 3-0 lead in the series. When down 3-0 in a series, every game you play in desperation because if you lose, it is your last game. Montreal avoided the series sweep as they won Game 4, to take the series to a 3-1 deficit. Game 5, back in Tampa bay, winning on home ice in front of their fans is every team’s dream, but it’s a lot harder said than done. Tampa achieved the dream, by winning Game 5, with a 1-0 win, to clinch the series and the Stanley Cup. The Tampa Bay Lightning had just gone back to back, a feat that hadn’t happened since the Penguins did it in 2017. The Canadiens rode the hot hand all the way to the Stanley Cup. A promising run that shows hope for the Canadiens in years to come.
Nobody expected this Stanley Cup final. One team was a cup favorite, while the other wasn’t expected to even win their first series. Expectations are never a reality in sports, and the 2020-2021 playoffs were a great example of that.