2021 Stanley Cup Final Preview

There are storylines a-plenty in a 2021 Stanley Cup Final featuring two teams from the same division (during a non-pandemic year), the Tampa Bay Lightning versus the Montreal Canadiens. One team, Tampa Bay, is on track to enter the NHL’s history books as one of the greatest teams ever with a victory in this series. The other, Montreal, has a chance to be perhaps the league’s most unlikely champion and the first team from Canada to win a title since 1993. This is also setting up to a titanic clash of styles: the offensively gifted Lightning face the playoffs’ best defensive team.

Who will the 2021 Stanley Cup? Here is how the matchup breaks down:

Tampa Bay Lightning (Central Division Champion) vs. Montreal Canadiens (North Division Champion)

Tampa Bay took out the New York Islanders to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second straight year. The road was hardly easy. This year, the Lightning disposed of a talented Florida squad, as well as a very game Carolina Hurricanes team. By beating two good teams convincingly, it might be time to start calling Tampa Bay one of the league’s best teams ever if another title is in the cards. Only once in the last 23 years has the Stanley Cup champion repeated in back-to-back seasons.

The Lightning can beat opponents at whatever type of game they want to play. Do you want to play a high-scoring track meet? Nikita Kucherov (NHL-leading 27 playoff points), Steven Stamkos, and Brayden Point (NHL-leading 14 playoff goals) lead an electric offense. Do you want to play a low-scoring, tight-checking game? Tampa Bay might be the best defensive team in the NHL, featuring six terrific blue liners led by Victor Hedman (16 points) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (12-6-0, 1.99 goals-against average, .936 save percentage), the best goalie in the world right now. Do you want to make it rough and physical game against Tampa Bay? The Lightning have plenty of size and grit; Blake Coleman, Ross Colton, Barclay Goodrow, and Pat Maroon are no fun to play against. They are as complete a team as there has been in the salary cap era.

The Canadiens’ storybook run continued with a great playoff upset when they eliminated the Vegas Golden Knights in the semifinals. With a team featuring four terrific defenders (Shea Weber, Joel Edmundson, Jeff Petry, and Ben Chiarot) and a generational goaltender (Carey Price), the Canadiens certainly had the talent on paper to upset Vegas. The most surprising aspect of the series was how Montreal absolutely outplayed the Golden Knights throughout so much of it. The Habs deserve to be here.

Price (12-5-0, 2.02 GAA, .934 SP) has been terrific in the playoffs. Montreal’s hulking four blueliners have taken full advantage of a lax rulebook and poor officiating. The team forced one turnover after another against Vegas — just like it did against Toronto, just like it did against Winnipeg — then took the play the other way. Montreal’s top line of Tyler Toffoli (team-leading five goals and 14 points), Nick Suzuki (team-leading five goals and 13 points), and rookie Cole Caufield mastered this, scoring at will in the six-game series. Caufield, especially, had his breakout performance against the Golden Knights, and Tampa must figure out a way to slow down the budding star. Caufield has plenty of help as Montreal gets contributions from everyone in their lineup.

Tampa Bay struggled at times generating offense against the New York Islanders, and Montreal will ramp up the defensive quotient even higher in this finals series. The Canadiens will look to force turnovers and generate quick offense, but Tampa Bay is a team that generally makes few mistakes with the puck. Certainly, they are much deeper down the middle than the Golden Knights. I expect Montreal to try to slow down the game, but the Lightning will be willing and ready for that, and feature a deadly power play. I do not see any way, other than through Price, for the Canadiens to come out on top — just as it was when they faced off against Vegas. I will take Tampa Bay to win their second straight Stanley Cup in five games, but these will likely all be tight contests.

2021 Stanley Cup Semifinal Preview

After six months of only divisional and country-exclusive play, four teams are left standing with a chance to win the Stanley Cup. There are clear favorites in each semifinal: Vegas and Tampa Bay expect to move on and meet each other with a championship on the line. Don’t discount dark-horse Montreal (winners of seven straight games) or the plucky New York Islanders. Making it to the final four during a season held in the midst of a global pandemic is an impressive accomplishment in and of itself. Both squads are hoping to go even farther.

These four teams have lived in their own divisional worlds for the past half-year. Now they face the challenge of an unknown opponent. Overcoming that challenge means a berth in the finals, and a shot to win hockey’s ultimate crown.

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2018 NHL Second Round Playoff Preview

2018 stanley cup playoffs

The first round of the NHL playoffs managed to separate the contenders from the pretenders. Now all of the eight remaining teams  Nashville, Winnipeg, Tampa Bay, Boston, Washington, Pittsburgh, Vegas or San Jose – are legitimate threats to win another 12 games. I still like a Nashville versus Tampa Bay final, with the Predators winning their first title, but two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh is still dangerous, as are the amazing upstart Golden Knights, who have yet to lose a playoff game.

Atlantic Division Final

1. Tampa Bay (54-23-5—113 points) vs. 2. Boston (50-20-12—112)

Tampa Bay looked very strong in an opening round five-game decision over the overmatched New Jersey Devils. Yet, for whatever reason the Lighting (who finished in first-place in the Eastern Conference) are flying a bit under the radar. The Bolts balance exceptional top-end talent like Nikita Kucherov (five goals and 10 points in the opening round) and Steven Stamkos (six points), who both had great starts to the playoffs, while Andrei Vasilevskiy did his part in goal. Now Tampa Bay will face a much tougher task in Boston, and especially the Bruins’ top-line. Victor Hedman will likely log a ton of ice time and his play along with Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev should determine if the Lightning move on or not.

Boston’s top line of Patrice Bergeron (eight points in six games), Brad Marchand (nine points) and David Pastrnak (playoff-leading 13 points), were the difference in a classic seven-game series win over Toronto. When that line played, the Bruins out-matched the Maple Leafs. Goaltender Tuukka Rask had some rough patches but played well most of the time. Meanwhile, the Bruins’ solid defensive game, anchored by Zdeno Chara alongside Torey Krug (nine points) and rookie Charlie McAvoy, were exposed a bit by Toronto’s speed. Facing a much deeper Lightning squad will test this defensive group’s resolve.

There is not much separating the Atlantic Division’s top two teams offensively or in goal. Therefore this series will likely come down to the blue lines. I think Tampa Bay has a slight edge here, and a slight edge in overall depth. The Lightning also have a true No. 1 defenseman capable of matching up against Boston’s top line. Therefore, I like Tampa Bay to win this series in seven games.

Metropolitan Division Final

1. Washington (49-26-7—105) vs. 2. Pittsburgh (47-29-6—100)

Washington got off to a terrible start to the playoffs and seemed primed for an upset at the hands of Columbus. Down two games to none, coach Barry Trotz replaced Philipp Grubauer with Braden Holtby in goal, and the Capitals woke up on the road. Defenseman John Carlson (nine points) stood out in slowing down the Blue Jackets, while Washington’s big three of Alexander Ovechkin (team-leading five goals), Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom were terrific.

With its offense in high gear, Pittsburgh rolled past Philadelphia in six games. Though Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin got hurt and will miss time in the next round, the combination of Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel were on fire, each posting six goals and 13 points. Matt Murray was fresh in goal, but had a pair of rough games against the Flyers. He and the Penguins’ defense, anchored by Kris Letang, will need to be better to slow down Washington.

For the third straight year Washington and Pittsburgh will face off with the Metropolitan Division on the line. Each team features roster that’s a little bit thinner this time around, and the Capitals are a little weaker on defense. With the Penguins banged up a little bit, this will be Washington’s best shot to finally break through. I think a strong series by Murray and the Crosby-led offense will be enough to carry the Penguins through in seven games.

Central Division Final

1. Nashville (53-18-11—117) vs. 2. Winnipeg (52-20-10—114)

The Nashville Predators needed six games to dispatch young and determined Colorado. Goalie Pekka Rinne had his hands full against the Avalanche’s top snipers, and will need to be much better against the deeper Winnipeg Jets. The positives to take out of round one: top scorer Filip Forsberg (team-leading four goals) was brilliant, and Nashville’s depth on offense shone through as third-liners Austin Watson and Colton Sissons led the team with seven points. The Predators’ defense, led by Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban and Roman Josi, played well too and will likely contribute even more offensively.

The Winnipeg Jets bull-rushed the undermanned Minnesota Wild in a convincing five-game series. The size and strength of the Jets was on full display as Dustin Byfuglien (team-leading five assists) and Mark Scheifele (team-leading five points) each had great series, as did top scorers Blake Wheeler and Patrik Laine. On defense, Tyler Myers and Byfuglien were great, and Winnipeg showed solid depth at every position. The team’s X-factor, goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, showed no signs of let-up after a great season.

Featuring the two top teams in the NHL during the regular season, this should be a titanic second-round series. Winnipeg proved it was legit as a Stanley Cup contender, despite not making the playoffs a year ago. Nashville was hardly perfect in the first round, but did not need to be. The question is whether the Predators can turn on the switch in round two, which I expect them to do. Nashville outlasts Winnipeg in seven epic games.

Pacific Division

1. Vegas (51-24-7—109) vs. 3. San Jose (45-27-10—100)

Though Vegas proved it was for real in the first round, Los Angeles hardly put up a fight with the exception of a double-overtime loss in Game 2. The experienced Kings were completely stifled by the Golden Knights’ defense led by Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt. Vegas also struggled to score, but William Karlsson got a big tally in Game 4. The Golden Knights rolled four lines relentlessly. Marc-Andre Fleury, an experienced goaltender, makes Vegas dangerous. He was absolutely brilliant in round one, giving up just three goals.

San Jose embarrassed a potential contender in Anaheim, dumping the Ducks in four short games, including an 8-1 blowout in Game 3. The Sharks skated circles around the Ducks and had enough brawn, thanks in part to newcomer Evander Kane, to match up physically with Anaheim. Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl all played well, while the unheralded defense led by Marc-Edouard Vlasic held its ground. Martin Jones, a possible question mark going into the playoffs, was great in goal.

Two well-rested squads will go head-to-head with the Pacific Division playoff crown on the line. San Jose will have the clear experience edge and presents considerably more depth than Los Angeles. Vegas completely shut down Los Angeles, but the question mark is whether the Golden Knights and Fleury can withstand a much more game offensive club. Sharks knock off Vegas in six games.

The Rest of the Playoffs


Tampa Bay over Pittsburgh in five games.


Nashville over San Jose in five games.

Stanley Cup Finals

Nashville over Tampa Bay in six games.

Previewing the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs

2018 stanley cup playoffs

Las Vegas is Spanish for “the gardens.” Its hockey team, the Golden Knights, have already planted the seeds of of a surprising season. Now comes the playoffs, and we’ve predicted a few surprises still to come:

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NHL conference finals offer fresh blood and the promise of a first-time champion.

Stanley Cup playoffs logoFresh blood: that’s the easiest way to describe the four teams remaining that still have Stanley Cup dreams on their mind. The San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins represent impressive turnover in the NHL’s final four playoff slots with three new teams for 2016.

They are a true representation of the league’s Salary Cap era, but the Conference Finalists in the 2010s were rarely made up of fresh faces. The usual suspects, near dynasties Chicago and Los Angeles, and perennial favorite the New York Rangers in the East, bowed out in the first round.
Replacing Chicago and Los Angeles in the West are two of the most star-crossed franchises in the NHL.

Emerging from the Central Division was the usually disappointing Blues, a squad that has been stuck in neutral over the past few years trying to outlast the Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators in easily the league’s toughest grouping. However, this is St. Louis 2.0, a retooled team that combined its prior size, grit and outstanding blue line with new skilled young offensive weapons.

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Predicting the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals: Tampa Bay vs. Chicago

Stanley Cup Finals logo 2015
The biggest question mark going into the Stanley Cup finals is whether Chicago has enough left in the tank to survive one last grueling series against the one team in the NHL capable of matching or surpassing its team speed: the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Chicago’s path to the finals has been nothing short of heroic, requiring defeats of Nashville, Minnesota, and Anaheim — two bona fide Cup contenders and another just outside that discussion at the moment. While dismantling the Ducks, the Hawks overcame both a 3-2 series deficit and the fact that Anaheim had yet to lose a game in regulation in the playoffs prior to Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals.

All Tampa Bay did to reach the Stanley Cup finals was defeat three straight Original Six franchises — something no team had ever done en route to the finals — outlasting Detroit, Montreal and New York. It took the Bolts just one less than the maximum 21 games, and they have a chance to put a stamp on the run by ending Chicago’s dynasty talk.

Amazingly, Tampa should have been ousted from the playoffs twice. First they rallied to overcome the far less talented, but extremely well-coached Red Wings. Then in the Conference finals the Lightning did the nearly unthinkable, defeating the Rangers and superstar goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden.

Chicago and Tampa Bay, on paper, have a chance to be one of the greatest all-time matchups from a pure hockey standpoint. But how will it play out? Read my prediction below:
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Predicting the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs.

2015 Stanley Cup playoffs logoThe 2014-2015 NHL season marked a changing of the guard.

Gone from the playoffs are recent Stanley Cup finals stalwarts Los Angeles and Boston. Joining them for an early summer golf vacation are the San Jose Sharks, who’ve been to 10 straight postseasons (and 15 of the last 16), and fellow 2014 postseason participants Colorado, Dallas, Columbus and Philadelphia.

Taking the place of those seven teams are Washington, the New York Islanders, Ottawa, Nashville, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Calgary.

The result of all of the chaos: A wide-open Eastern Conference playoff bracket, featuring one dominant team (the Presidents’ Trophy-winning New York Rangers) and a whole slew of legitimate Cup contenders, including Montreal, Tampa Bay and Washington.
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Where will ‘Lou’ land?


Roberto Luongo is the epitome of unpredictable.

Sometimes he’ll post a shutout (Game 5 of 2011 Cup Finals), then follow with a three-goal, first-period horror show (Game 6 of 2011 Cup Finals).

Sometimes he’ll get stoked for overtime – then miss the opening minutes because nature is calling.

Sometimes he’ll say, “I always want to put the team ahead of me,” when, in actuality, he’s minutes away from requesting a trade, which happened in April when Los Angeles terminated his Vancouver Canucks’ playoff run.

So we might not know how Roberto Luongo’s future will unfold. We do know this: When “Luongo” and “request” are mentioned in the same sentence, silly things happen.

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