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Stanley Cup Final: Lightning favored to repeat against Canadiens

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Stanley Cup Final: Lightning favored to repeat against Canadiens
Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning has the best save percentage in the NHL this postseason. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

June 28 (UPI) -- Hockey's greatest spectacle, the Stanley Cup Final, starts Monday when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series. The Lightning are defending champions and heavy favorites.

The Canadiens, the lowest Canadian seed this postseason, upset the Vegas Golden Knights in the semifinals to reach the frozen floor finale. They'll need another upset to claim one of the most-recognizable trophies in sports.

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The puck drops for Game 1 at 8 p.m. EDT Monday at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. The series stays in Tampa for Game 2 on Wednesday and moves to Montreal on Friday and Monday for Game 3 and Game 4, respectively. Stanley Cup Final games air on NBC and NBCSN.

"This is going to be a very tough series," Lighting forward Brayden Point told reporters Sunday. "Our group knows that. Montreal makes you earn every inch."

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The series ends a unique NHL season, which featured Canadian teams forced to play games north of the U.S. border and U.S.-based teams south of the border due to COVID-19 restrictions.

That stipulation stayed in place through the first two rounds of the postseason, but changed when the Canadian government and NHL reached an agreement to relax restrictions for playoff teams to cross the border.

The Lightning allowed nearly 15,000 fans, about 70% of full capacity, to attend their semifinals games at Amalie Arena.

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The lightning have not announced allowed attendance for the Stanley Cup Final games. The Canadiens were allowed to host just 3,500 fans for the semifinals at Bell Centre. The Canadian government has not announced an increase.

"I hope they let more fans in there," Lightning coach Jon Cooper told reporters Friday. "The fans of Quebec, they haven't been back since 1993. They deserve to watch their team play. I hope they get in there because this game was meant to be played in front of fans."

The Canadiens have an NHL-best 24 Stanley Cup titles, but haven't advanced to the finale since their 1993 championship run.

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With a series victory, the Canadiens would snap a 28-year title drought for Canada-based NHL franchises.

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The Lightning are in the Stanley Cup Final for the third time since 2014-15, and will make their fourth appearance in franchise history. They won their first title in 2004.

"They might be the most-skilled team we've played against," Canadiens forward Nick Suzuki told reporters Sunday. "They play really fast and strong, structured hockey.

"They won last year so they play with a ton of confidence."

Offensive firepower, balance

The Lightning and Canadiens boast two of the most high-powered offenses in the NHL. Tampa Bay's attack comes from a variety of talented puck handlers, led by forwards Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Alex Killorn and defenseman Victor Hedman.

"We're a team, so it doesn't really matter for us who gets the goals," Lightning forward Anthony Cirelli told reporters Sunday. "We are just looking forward to Game 1."

Kucherov, who missed the regular season due to a hip injury, leads the NHL with 27 points (five goals, 22 assists) this postseason. Point, Killorn and Stamkos also rank inside the Top 4 in postseason point totals. Point's 14 postseason goals are tops in the NHL.

The Lightning power play is red-hot, with a league-best 20 goals. Point leads the Lightning with seven goals off power plays.

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Forwards Tyler Toffoli, Cole Caufield and Suzuki lead the Canadiens in postseason points.

Defensemen Ben Chiarot, Shea Weber and Joel Edmundson will be among those tasked with stopping the Lightning attack. Point, Cirelli, Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak will be among the defensive forces for Tampa Bay.

The goalie matchup should be one of the best in recent memory for a Stanley Cup Final.

Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy is one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. His 1.99 goals against average is the second-best this postseason, behind only Toronto Maple leafs netminder Jack Campbell. Price ranks third at 2.02.

Vasilevskiy and Price lead the NHL with respective .936 and .934 save percentages this postseason. Vasilevskiy's four playoff shutouts are the most in the NHL.

"It's exciting," Price told reporters Sunday. "This is something we've been working toward our whole lives. We finally are getting the opportunity and I'm looking forward to it."

Stanley Cup Final

Monday

Game 1: Canadiens at Lightning at 8 p.m. EDT on NBCSN

Wednesday

Game 2: Canadiens at Lightning at 8 p.m. EDT on NBCSN

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Friday

Game 3: Lightning at Canadiens at 8 p.m. EDT on NBC

Monday, July 5

Game 4: Lightning at Canadiens at 8 p.m. EDT on NBC

Wednesday, July 7

Game 5 (If necessary): Canadiens at Lightning at 8 p.m. EDT on NBC

Friday, July 9

Game 6 (If necessary): Lightning at Canadiens at 8 p.m. EDT on NBC

Sunday, July 11

Game 7 (If necessary): Canadiens at Lightning at 8 p.m. EDT on NBC

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