Observations from Monday’s Game 1, which saw the Canadiens get pounded, 5-1, in their first Stanley Cup Final game in 28 years …
▪ Feeling very confident in my “Tampa in five” pick. Still think Montreal gets one at home, but man, this one wasn’t close. A few big-time early stops from Carey Price — making his Cup Final debut after 14 seasons and 85 playoff games — kept it tight early. But if the Lightning are going to grit-and-grind as well as the Habs and pile on the speed and skill, this doesn’t look like a long series.
▪ Activated defense, in the person of Erik Cernak, gave Tampa the lead 6:19 in. Cernak hadn’t scored in his first 45 playoff games, but the burly Slovak (6 feet 3 inches, 233 pounds) got on his horse and tipped a give-and-go feed from Ondrej Palat over Price’s right shoulder.
The Lightning went the first 12 games of the postseason without a goal from their D. They’ve had four in seven games since. As it often does for Tampa, the scoring play involved Brayden Point (three assists), who killed a Canadiens zone entry and kick-started the breakout.
▪ Montreal rookie sensation Cole Caufield was firing early (two shots, five attempts), but was a nonfactor by night’s end. He and linemates Tyler Toffoli and Nick Suzuki were on for three goals against.
▪ It was a Final debut to remember for Montreal defenseman Ben Chiarot. He took an undisciplined cross-checking penalty in the first period and was directly involved in the first four goals of the game.
Nikita Kucherov made it 3-1 two minutes into the third, throwing a shot on net that Chiarot accidentally put into his own net while trying to bat it away.
Additionally, Chiarot was caught in the wash on Cernak’s opening strike, and blocked a shot that led to Yanni Gourde’s goal in the second.
▪ Chiarot also scored for the first time in 52 career playoff games and ended Andrei Vasilevskiy’s home shutout streak at 161 minutes. However, his goal came on a double deflection from the point, off two Tampa bodies. Montreal wasn’t getting much else (three high-danger shot attempts in the first 40, before it got out of hand).
▪ Give referees Francis Charron and Dan O’Rourke a C grade at best, considering the number of uncalled cross-checks. Hits were 24-17, Montreal, in a tone-setting first 15 minutes and wound up 58-57 for the visitors.
Brendan Gallagher may have taken the worst of it. The heart-and-soul Hab was bloodied, WWE-style, in a third-period scrum that saw Mikhail Sergachev rip off his helmet and wrestle him to the ice. Gallagher’s head smacked off the sheet. He looked alert, but had blood streaming down his face and needed repairs.
▪ Tampa lost Alex Killorn, who blocked a shot with his foot, for the third. He finished with 12:09 time on ice.
▪ Good to see Montreal forward Jake Evans (0-0—0, 11:55 TOI) back in the lineup after a vicious hit from Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele in Game 1 of the second round.
▪ Tampa’s excellent third line of Barclay Goodrow-Yanni Gourde-Blake Coleman was matched up against the Habs’ Philip Danault-centered top line. Their counterattack made it 2-0 at 5:47 of the second, capitalizing on a Gallagher turnover high in the offensive zone. Montreal couldn’t go east-west against Tampa.
▪ A caffeinated Shea Weber (game-high five shots and 10 attempts) was everywhere for Montreal. He led the rush and kept the play alive, with some ferocious forechecking from the Paul Byron-Jesperi Kotkaniemi-Josh Anderson line, before Chiarot’s slapper from the point clanked off Anthony Cirelli and Ryan McDonagh in front.
▪ Chasing the score? Not a great idea for Montreal. After Kucherov, likely carrying a rib injury from a Scott Mayfield cross-check last round, got the lucky bounces off Chiarot, he whipped a wrister past Price’s glove to make it 4-1. The Lightning struck off a faceoff play to go with their rush goals.
▪ No mercy from Tampa coach Jon Cooper, who ran out five forwards on a late five-on-three, with a three-goal lead. Steven Stamkos’s one-timer took a chunk of Price on the way in, ending Montreal’s record penalty-kill streak at 32 straight. Tampa took everything it wanted in Game 1.