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The Stanley Cup Final starts Monday evening and the resilient Montreal Canadiens have advanced to the last round of the playoffs. The HabsWorld writers provide their predictions on what’s expected to be an exciting series to determine who will lift Lord Stanley’s cup and celebrate.

Stanley Cup Final

Montreal Canadiens vs Tampa Bay Lightning

Norm Szcyrek predicts: Canadiens in 7 games
Terry Costaris predicts: Canadiens in 7 games
Allan Katz predicts: Canadiens in 6 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Lightning in 5 games
Naqeeb Shaikh predicts: Canadiens in 6 games

(Norm) It’s been an unbelievable playoff run for the Montreal Canadiens. They have embraced the underdog theme and used it to their advantage as it appears every team they have faced has underestimated them until it was too late. Tyler Toffoli leads the team in scoring with 14 points and his young linemates Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki have provided clutch offence with timely goals and assists. Goaltender Carey Price has been amazing, elevating his game to make the most timely saves and help keep the team competitive when they need it most. The team’s top four defencemen have all been solid in their defensive responsibilities, especially considering the high amount of ice time they have received. Nevertheless, the tactic has worked well. The team’s fourth line of Corey Perry, Eric Staal, and Joel Armia has played hard against their opponents and still provided second-line level offence. The rest of the team have been chipping in on offence to help provide balance while playing relentless defence with aggressive forechecking to limit their opponents’ time and space on the ice. The penalty killing units have been very impressive while providing perfect service for the last two series.

Yes, the Lightning are going to be a formidable foe. Superstar Nikita Kucherov recovered from offseason surgery “just in time” to start the playoffs, thanks to a salary cap loophole. He has been dominating, leading the NHL in scoring with 27 points which is seven points ahead of linemate Brayden Point. Forwards Alex Killorn and Steven Stamkos, followed by defenceman Victor Hedman round out the top five scorers in the league. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has been equally stellar, and his 1.99 GAA is three points ahead of Price’s.

I believe it’s going to come down to the Habs wanting this Cup more, but the talent and experience on the Tampa side will push them to the limit before they get there. This series will go a full seven games. Enjoy the rollercoaster ride, everyone!

(Terry) So here we are on the final legs of an absolutely incredible journey. One in which Montreal came from behind in a 3 games to 1 deficit and defeated – against massive odds – their archrivals in the Toronto Maple Leafs, then pulverized the Winnipeg Jets, and then, slayed the bigger, badder, faster, stronger, and more star-studded Vegas Golden Knights.

Not even incredibly incompetent refereeing could stop them. When was the last time that a team advanced to the Stanley Cup Final without its head coach? The Canadiens did this as well!

On paper, Tampa is superior in every facet except goaltending – where even here, they’re basically even. But regardless of these logical facts, I believe that the Canadiens can win this.

If the New York Islanders could push Tampa to 7 games, only to lose by a single goal, then why can’t the Habs take the Bolts to this number and win by a goal? If this series goes to 7, then anything can happen in just one game. I don’t think too many people will be surprised if the championship lasts 7 matches. I also believe that this series will principally involve super close, one-goal winning contests. Each one will be a coin flip, meaning that it’s possible either club could win this series in just 5 games. Anything can happen either way but if I have to pick a number, it’s the Habs in 7.

As has been the case all playoffs, logic based on small sample sizes and unmeasurable variables dictates that the Habs should lose this series.

Montreal’s regular season record badly skews how they are perceived. Their unimpressive numbers were the result of playing every second day for two months with a depleted mentally and physically exhausted roster. How do you quantify this from an analytics perspective? You can’t.

Veteran players like Carey Price, Shea Weber, Corey Perry, and Eric Staal have found a second wind as has the Habs’ defence. The team is playing like a unified whole. The depth is so good that Tomas Tatar and Alexander Romanov are game-day scratches and bringing in Jake Evans is debatable.

Youngsters like Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Cole Caufield have boosted the offence and potentially have more to give.

Analysts and oddsmakers can’t neatly take these variables and input them into any formula. As good as these kids are right now, there’s still more upside to their potential and it may display itself in this series. And have I mentioned Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault may have more to give offensively? I could keep going.

As good as the Canadiens have been, they have the very real potential of being better. I’m not so sure that you can say the same about Tampa.

So picking a winner based on what we currently know founded on skewed season statistics and small playoff sample sizes is far from accurate. What one needs to do is operate based on a gut feeling. And my COVID-19 bloated gut says the Habs will win the Cup.

I’ve been playing with found money these entire playoffs. So once again, I’m going to put it all on Montreal and predict the Habs to win in seven.

It’s taken 28 years to see The Canadiens go this far. For most of us older fans, this might be our last sniff at a Stanley Cup in our lifetimes. The sample size numbers here don’t lie.

Hopefully, our boys will get us out of the hockey wilderness and into the promised land. If not, what an amazing ride that these 2021 playoffs have been, eh?

And in the event of a worst-case scenario, the Habs still beat the Leafs and finished ahead of the Bruins. Right?

One more bonus, free agents may now see Montreal as a desirable place of destination. After all, this team is now going to be seen as a contender. Go Habs Go!

(Allan) The good news is I have correctly picked the Habs to win three straight series. Sadly I picked Tampa to lose to Florida, so while it’s cool I got the Habs three times in a row, I had a more haphazard record with the other teams.

I have read a number of articles picking the Bolts and they, of course, are easy to agree with. The number one reason 10% of the writers picked Montreal was, “Well, I picked them to lose three times in a row so I might as well pick them to win this time.” So I’m going against my record of picking the underdog in each series and this time I’m picking the favourites, ta-da, the Montreal Canadiens!!!

Please allow me to take you down the tortured path that I took to justify the Habs as the favourites. 1) First Montreal defeated the #6-ranked team from the season; the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bolts are ranked #8. 2) Then Montreal destroyed the Jets, who had destroyed the Oilers. Okay, nice. 3) Meanwhile the number one ranked team, the Avalanche, played the number two ranked team, Vegas. The winner would automatically be “King of the Hill,” and the favourite to win the cup. Then Vegas wins!! 4) The Habs take on the heavily favoured King of the Hill; the Vegas Golden Knights. Like a heavyweight elimination, the team that wins is the King of the Hill. Habs win!!! In other words, the Habs beat the team that beat the one team ranked higher than them.

So since the Habs are Kings of the Hill and the only argument you can make against them is that Vegas is a better team in practically every which way, here are my preconditions for the Habs to win. 1) Split the first two games. 2) Have better health than Tampa. Given those two, Habs in six.

(Brian) – I haven’t had a lot of faith in Montreal so far so why change now?  I can certainly see a way for them to win – the penalty kill shuts down the power play, Price steals a couple of games, and they get enough timely scoring to pick up a pair of close victories.  That has been a winning combination and it’s certainly possible that they could do that here.

But I don’t think it’s probable.  In the special teams battle, I think Tampa Bay’s power play snaps the long penalty kill streak and Joel Armia’s potential absence certainly looms large there.  That power play scares me in a big way, especially with how they work the puck cross-ice which is a trouble spot for Montreal.  With both teams having pretty much equal goaltending, the better offensive team should prevail in the end.  That’s the Lightning, not the Canadiens.

I’d love to continue to be proven wrong but I have a sinking suspicion that Montreal has hit its peak.  I hope the Cinderella story continues for another couple of weeks and that the clock doesn’t strike midnight but Tampa Bay is heavily favoured for a reason.  They’ve been here before – less than a year ago – and won’t be overwhelmed by the moment.  Poise coupled with that much talent feels like a pathway to victory for the Lightning.

(Naqeeb) Habs in 6, but they have to be disciplined in all 3 zones and communicate effectively between forwards and the defencemen.

Perry’s right, don’t take it for granted since it took 28 years to get to this point.

Aim to score first and early. The big 4 create a wall in front of Price.

On the penalty kill or 5 on 5, I think they’ll try to force Montreal’s defencemen and Price to move laterally a lot to get them out of position for scoring chances using Stamkos’s shot.

Lean on Josh Anderson and Corey Perry’s experience versus Tampa Bay in previous seasons’ playoffs.