Imagine if someone told you at the beginning of the 2021 NHL playoffs that the Montreal Canadians would make it further than the Colorado Avalanches, you’d probably have asked them to get their head examined! These playoffs have been full of upsets and heroes, but as we begin the semifinals, a few of the powerhouses still remain. The Lightnings are looking to defend their championship and prove last year’s “Covid cup” was no fluke, whilst the upstart New York Islanders are looking to make their first finals appearance since 1984. The other semi-final matchup sees the Vegas Golden Knights on the cusp of their 2nd finals appearance in 4 years against the Montreal Canadians who look to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada for the first time since 1993. Buckle up & enjoy the ride, this round is going to get crazy.
Tampa Bay Lightning VS NY Islanders
It’s a rematch from last years Eastern Conference semi-finals but this time around the Islanders will put up a much stronger fight against the defending champs. The Lightning boast the best top forward 6 group left in the playoffs led by Stamkos, Kucherov and Point. The Islanders meanwhile have stronger overall roster depth and get production from all 4 lines. The all-Russian goaltending matchup looks to be fairly even with both Andrei Vasilevskiy for Tampa and Semyon Varlamov for the Isles both playing lights out for their respective clubs. Their GAA and save % numbers are almost identical through 2 rounds.
In their first two rounds Tampa played Carolina and Florida teams that relied heavily on their offence to win games. Not a good tactic when you try to outgun the Lighting, but in this matchup we’ll see the Bolts play the Islanders who play a heavy defensive first type structure. The Isles also have a balanced offense led by superstar Matt Barzal. Tampa has struggled to score 5v5 at times during these playoffs. Their power play is incredibly dangerous but they might rely on it a bit too often. If the Islanders can stay out of the penalty box and limit Tampa’s power play chances I can see their style of play smothering the lightning 5v5. The Islanders home crowd, which resembles a soccer crowd at times, is also going to play a factor in this series as it did vs Boston. Their full capacity stadium is a horrifying place for opposing teams these days. This series could see multiple overtimes and go back and forth but ultimately I think the Islanders style of play overpowers Tampa. Isles in 7- Place your bets here.
Montreal Canadians VS Las Vegas Golden Knights
Can anyone really predict what the Habs will do at this point? This team finished 18th in regular season standings but now find themselves 4 wins away from the Cup finals. They are playing with tremendous confidence and have shown resilience like no other team in these playoffs so far. Their top 4 defensive core led by Shea Webber has the ability to clog up passing lanes and protect the front of the net making life difficult for opposing offences. They might also be the hottest team of the 4 still playing having won 7 straight games and not having trailed for a second in any of those games. But in this 3rd round they get an opponent much different than Toronto and Winnipeg.
Vegas is battle-tested having won 8 playoff rounds in the past 4 seasons, and this may be the best team they have iced yet. The play with incredible pace and can fore-check opponents into oblivion. They also have a stellar blue line led by superstar Alex Pietrangelo. They can get scoring from all 4 lines and have more offensive weapons than Montreal. Former Habs captain Max Pacioretty was injured in round 1 vs Minnesota but returned for Vegas in round 2 and immediately contributed with 3 goals, 2 of which were game-winners. Pacioretty will be extremely motivated after being traded for Nick Suzuki even though the trade worked out great for both sides. For the Habs to win this series Carey Price will have to outright steal games, which he has done to this point. The only problem is that Las Vegas has a Carey Price of their own in Marc-Andrea Fleury who boasts a 1.91 GAA best of any goaltender in these playoffs. Fleury has let in some softies throughout the playoffs but has shown an incredible knack for making the big saves that matter. The margin for error is very low for Montreal, and with Vegas on a mission to capture a championship that’s been within grasp for several years now, they will come away victorious. Vegas in 6 place your bets here.