The Stanley Cup will be in the building again on Wednesday night. Do the Tampa Bay Lightning get to raise it this evening, or is this series heading back to Montreal?
Check out the ESPN NHL Playoffs Daily to catch up every day of the postseason until the Stanley Cup is handed out in July.
Tampa Bay had the chance to be the first team in 23 years to sweep the Stanley Cup Final. But the Lightning’s power play went cold at the wrong time, going 0-for-6 — including wasting a four-minute opportunity at the end of regulation and the first couple minutes of overtime.
Now, as Tampa Mayor Jane Castor infamously suggested, the Lightning will have the chance to clinch at home — and celebrate with friends and family on the ice, which they were unable to do in last year’s bubble and largely wouldn’t have been able to do at the Bell Center. The Lightning have not lost consecutive games over the past two postseasons, going 14-0 following a loss. If they do it again, they’ll be hoisting what’s in these crates later tonight:
— Philip Pritchard (@keeperofthecup) July 6, 2021
Meanwhile, Habs interim coach Dominique Ducharme made several bold lineup changes for Game 4, and they all seemed to work. Hockey players are notoriously superstitious, and especially given the results, it’s no surprise Ducharme hinted at the same lineup for Game 5. That means Alexander Romanov, Brett Kulak and Jake Evans should remain in, while Jon Merrill, Erik Gustafsson and Jesperi Kotkaniemi will likely stay sidelined.
Oh, and as if the 2021 season hasn’t been wonky enough, Game 5 is scheduled to take place as Tropical Storm Elsa bears down on Tampa. The Canadiens landed in Tampa on Tuesday, despite the bumpy conditions. “It’s no surprise anymore,” Ducharme said. “Anything that happens right now and for a while, we just take it and look at it and say, ‘It’s probably our destiny.’ It’s been crazy, but we’re a crazy bunch of guys in here.”
Three players to watch
For years, Price’s peers have considered him the best goaltender in the league. He finally got to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in his career, and he looked fallible early in the series — allowing 14 goals through three games, and a .833 save percentage on low-danger shots. Price responded in a big way for Game 4, stopping 32 shots. Which version of Price shows up for Game 5?
The fourth-liner scored a big goal in Game 4 to tie things at 2-2 as he looks to complete his personal three-peat. (He also won with his hometown St Louis Blues in 2019 and the Lightning last year.) No NHL player had won three straight Cups since 1983, when 15 Islanders wrapped up their fourth in a row. No player has won three straight Cups with two different teams since 1964.
The 21-year-old entered the Game 4 lineup after playing in only two playoff games — once in the Winnipeg second-round series, and once against Vegas in the Stanley Cup semifinal. After scoring a massive goal in Game 4, it’s hard not to wonder why he didn’t enter the lineup any sooner. Romanov does have a propensity for turnovers, and the coaching staff is still sheltering him a bit, as he played a team-low 10:19 at 5-on-5 in Game 4.
Conn Smythe watch
Should Tampa Bay win, the race seems to have come down to two players: Andrei Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov. Brayden Point was a consideration — the top-line center scored 20 points through the first three rounds — but he’s been quiet in the finals. Point has only three points (all assists), and all of them came in Game 1. He also took two penalties in Game 4.
On Tuesday, coach Jon Cooper made a case for one of his other players: defenseman Ryan McDonagh. “He’s just one of those guys that if we can win this Stanley Cup, he’s not going to get the Conn Smythe voting that other people will, but he surely deserves it,” Cooper said. McDonagh has seven points, all assists, and leads all postseason skaters with a plus-14 rating. In Game 4, McDonagh made a terrific play to set up Barclay Goodrow‘s goal late in the second period:
This is such a great play by McDonagh . . some want to call it a turnover but who expects McDonagh to step up on that play . . . and then the presence to go low, take Petry with him and open up the passing lane back to Goodrow https://t.co/hZ70891d8e
— Lightning Insider (@Erik_Erlendsson) July 6, 2021
But Cooper made a case for a lot of his other players, too.
“If we happen to win, I think it’s a collective group that gets you here. I don’t think one guy stands out,” Cooper said. “Last year, it could have been Vasy, Pointer, Kuch, [Victor] Hedman, a bunch of guys. And this year I feel the same way. Everybody’s chipped in. Vasy’s been outstanding. You can go up and down our D corps guys who have made an impact. Kuch, for the way he didn’t play in the regular season and the performance he’s putting on in the playoffs. Pointer with his goal streak. Then, you look at anybody on the [Yanni] Gourde line. Guys have stepped up and had their moments; you can’t win without that.”
Quote of the day
After getting roasted for saying she preferred the Lightning to “maybe take it easy” in Game 4 to win in front of a home crowd in Game 5, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor did some backtracking on Tuesday. Castor said she “never wished they lost.”
Said Castor: “Lesson learned: Don’t try to be funny when you’re the mayor — or about sports.”
Mind-boggling stat of the day
Jaromir Jagr to Kevin Bacon: hold my beer:
Since 1980, every #StanleyCup Final has featured at least one of Jaromir Jagr’s teammates. 😳
(📸: IG/nhleurope) pic.twitter.com/OyqzzMh8m8
— NHL (@NHL) July 5, 2021