The 2021 Stanley Cup final, the Lightning vs. the Canadiens, is packed with intrigue and subplots, history and lore, great goaltenders, skill, speed, tenacity, courage and of dedicated fans.
The Best of 7 series kicks off with Game 1 in Tampa Bay on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
Here are 10 scenarios to follow:
1. Montreal seeks to end 28-year drought in Canada
The Canadians are Canada’s last hope to end the country’s longest drought without a Stanley Cup championship. No Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since Montreal in 1993.
The Canadiens are the sixth Canadian team to reach the Stanley Cup final since winning the Cup in a five-game series against Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings.
The Vancouver Canucks (1994, 2011), Calgary Flames (2004), Edmonton Oilers (2006) and Ottawa Senators (2007) have lost the Cup final since winning Montreal.
Canada’s longest drought in the Canada Cup lasted six seasons, from 1935-36 to 1940-41.
Video: NHL Tonight presents the Stanley Cup Final
2. Tampa Bay will repeat
The Lightning are back in the final after winning the Stanley Cup last year. They are looking to become the second team to repeat this century, joining the Pittsburgh Penguins, who won the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017.
The Penguins were the first team to win the title since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.
The Lightning have won seven back-to-back playoffs largely because they haven’t lost back-to-back playoff games since losing four in a row to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Conference’s first round. Eastern 2019.
Tampa Bay was 7-0 in games following a playoff loss last year and 6-0 following a loss this year.
3. Perry, Staal rewinding the clock
Corey Perry and Eric Staal are the gray beards of the Canadiens, the two oldest players on the team, each 36 years old. They’re each trying to win the Stanley Cup for the second time, but it’s been a while.
Staal and Perry each won the Cup in their second season in the NHL; Staal with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and Perry with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.
Chris Chelios played 16 seasons in the NHL between the Cup championships (1986-2002). Staal is in his 15th season since winning. Perry is in his 14th which, if he wins, would tie Mark Recchi for the third longest stretch between the championships behind Chelios and Staal.
Perry scored nine points (three goals, six assists) and Staal scored eight points (two goals, six assists) in the playoffs. They are in the fourth line with Joel armia.
4. Kucherov, Point in the lead again
Lightning ahead Nikita Kucherov leads the playoffs in scoring for a second straight season, and center Pointe Brayden leads the playoff goals for the second straight season.
Kucherov has scored 27 points (five goals, 22 assists) in 18 playoff games after scoring 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists) in 25 games last season. He’s scored 17 power play points (four goals, 13 assists) this season.
The last player to dominate the NHL in the playoffs in consecutive seasons was Mario Lemieux in 1991 and 1992, when he helped the Penguins reclaim their Stanley Cup championship title.
Point enjoyed a nine-game streak, the second longest in NHL playoff history, which ended in Game 7 of the semifinals against the New York Islanders. He has scored 14 goals in 18 games after leading the playoffs with 14 in 23 games last season.
The last player to dominate playoff goals in consecutive seasons was Jari Kurri with the Edmonton Oilers in 1987 and 1988. The Oilers have won the Stanley Cup every season.
Video: Brayden Point’s best playoffs
5. The status of Ducharme
Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme is expected to be back for Game 3 on Friday, as he returns from a 14-day quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 on June 18.
Ducharme hasn’t coached the last four games against the Vegas Golden Knights after immediately isolating himself.
Assistant Luke Richardson coached Ducharme and Montreal won three of those four games.
6. Vasilevskiy against the price
Two of the best goalies in the NHL will face off in the Cup Final and it is realistic that the winner could emerge with the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Lightning Andreï Vasilevskiy leads the NHL with a .936 save percentage and his 1.99 goals-against average is the best of any goaltender who advanced in the first round. He started all 18 games played by Tampa Bay and allowed 36 goals on 559 shots.
Vasilevskiy has one shutout in each of the last four series wins, an NHL record.
Not to be outdone, Canadians Prix Carey has a saving percentage of .934 and an GAA of 2.02. He started all 17 games played by Montreal and allowed 35 goals on 530 shots.
Vasilevskiy won the Vézina Trophy in 2018-19 and was a finalist this season. Price won the Vezina Trophy in 2014-15, when he also won the Hart Trophy, voted NHL’s MVP.
Video: Carey Price’s best playoff saves
7. Maroon looking for a Stanley Cup hat trick
Pat Maroon may become the first player to win the Stanley Cup in three consecutive seasons as 16 Islanders have won it four times in a row from 1980 to 1983, including Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Clark Gillies, Billy Smith and Denis Potvin.
Maroon won the Stanley Cup with his hometown Blues of St. Louis in 2019. He went to Tampa Bay on a two-year, $ 1.8 million contract last season and won it with the Lightning. .
He scored three points (one goal, two assists) in 18 games playing regularly in the fourth row with Ross Colton and Tyler Johnson.
8. Danault’s monumental task
Philippe Danault, with the help of teammates Brendan Gallagher and Artturi Lehkonen, with the defenders Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot, has handled three tough postseason missions, but perhaps the toughest is ahead of him.
Habs top stopping center Danault helped limit Toronto Maple Leafs forwards Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner, Winnipeg Jets forwards Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler, and the forwards of the Vegas Golden Knights Brand Pierre and Max Pacioretty.
This series, he will likely face the Lightning’s best line on a regular basis from Point, Kucherov and Ondrej Palat evenly matched and their best power play unit, which has Kucherov and Point with Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn and Victor Hedman.
Danault is the Canadiens’ top forward in total ice time per game (19:03) and shorthanded ice time per game (2:36). He’s had three assists in 17 playoff games, but his role is to help keep the puck past than trying to put it in.
9. Tampa Bay’s power play against Montreal shorthanded
The special teams battle in the Cup Final will be fascinating to watch as the Lightning’s tic-tac-toe power play takes on the Canadiens’ aggressive shorthandedness.
Tampa Bay is 37.7 percent on the power play, with 20 goals coming from the first unit, seven by Point.
Montreal leads the playoffs 93.5% shorthanded, including 30-30 with three shorthanded goals since Game 5 against the Maple Leafs in the first round on May 27.
The Canadiens are 11-2 since they last allowed a power play goal.
10. Cooper trying to join an exclusive fraternity
Lightning coach Jon Cooper is trying to become the 19th coach to win the Stanley Cup twice and become the 12th coach to win at least two consecutive seasons, joining Scotty Bowman, Toe Blake, Hap Day, Punch Imlach , Al Arbor, Glen Sather, Jack Adams, Fred Shero, Cecil Hart, Tommy Gorman and Mike Sullivan.
Cooper has the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final for the third time since 2015, when they lost in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks.
He is tied for seventh among active coaches with 66 playoff wins. He also has the best winning percentage (.595) of any active coach who has made the playoffs at least twice.