As the final round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs opens, fans can now see who may take the first game of this series. In this article, we have our NHL Picks for this Monday, June 28th. Will the Tampa Bay Lightning be able to hold serve and take Game 1 at home? Or will Montreal steal the first game of this best-of-seven series?
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Monday night brings us the opening contest for the Stanley Cup Final. Tampa Bay opens as a heavy favorite at home.
Now, the big news is with Nikita Kucherov. For those that do not know, the Russian winger leads the NHL playoffs in points with 27 behind 22 assists. He has 17 points on the power play. However, he suffered some broken ribs after a cross-check by New York’s Scott Mayfield early in Game 6. Kucherov played a little over 16 minutes in Game 7 but was mostly a non-factor.
We were able to talk to Kucherov yesterday for NHL Media Day. This is what he had to say on the injury itself.
“There was no injury. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I felt good. There was no question if I was going to play or not. Felt good.”Nikita Kucherov on rib injury.
This is where the debate begins. Naturally, there is video footage from yesterday as Kucherov was practicing. It is not clear how he is progressing with the broken ribs. On the other hand, he is not quite 100% either.
It is easy to see why the Tampa Bay Lightning are strong home favorites for Game 1. For what it is worth, Kucherov looks more mobile as he could not do this drill before Game 7 at all. A 90% Kucherov is enough for Tampa Bay to win.
Ahead of Game 1, the NHL odds are out and they favor Tampa Bay. The Lightning has been listed between -185 and -205, while the Montreal Canadiens are around +155 to +180. Montreal fans are hopeful for a split at Amalie Arena as Tampa Bay has had issues winning at home at times in these playoffs. Still, this will not be easy. Tampa Bay feels rested heading into the opener against Montreal.
Tampa Bay’s experience helps. Consider that Patrick Maroon is now in his third straight Stanley Cup Final (St. Louis in 2019). The only wrinkle this time is Tampa Bay is playing at home with a full contingent of fans. That atmosphere should be a huge lift.
It comes down to the start. Tampa Bay must again execute early, draw penalties, generate scoring chances on transition, etc.
For NHL Picks, our best bet on Monday night features taking Tampa Bay on the moneyline.
Tampa Bay should win Game 1 on Monday. Tampa Bay can quickly wipe or nearly wipe deficits off the board. Montreal has been resilient but not quite to the level of Tampa. Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens come in with a 93.5% penalty kill and have not allowed a power-play goal since the Toronto series.
The Lightning can score with all four lines and generate a lot of chances. This is something Montreal has also not seen. Now, Tampa has seen a balanced defensive effort at even strength. The Lightning were able to score several goals on the man advantage against a New York penalty kill that was ranked in the top five most of the regular season.
Special teams will definitely be vital. Montreal expects to be missing Joel Armia as he was in COVID protocol as of press time. However, Jake Evans may return for the Canadiens. It is something to keep an eye on before warm-ups. Evans is a relentless forward but Armia had the experience. Also, Evans is also coming off a concussion from the Winnipeg series at the hands of Mark Schiefele.
Tampa Bay’s balance and thrust is something Montreal may be a bit slow in stopping at least in Game 1.
Earlier this postseason, Tampa Bay had a bit of value for the NHL Stanley Cup title. Now, Tampa Bay is a favorite without a doubt.
Once upon a time, the Lightning was +600 entering the postseason. Now, they hold -275 odds to be crowned repeat Stanley Cup champions.
Now, Montreal has the all-world goaltending of Carey Price which will also be essential if they are to make this a long series. Again, Andrei Vasievskiy faces a goaltender who can play right at his level. Price has a penalty-kill save percentage of nearly .950 in the postseason. Vasilevskiy is one of the few goaltenders who performed at greater than a .900 level (on the penalty kill) for an entire regular season.
Also, a fun wrinkle is Montreal’s youth. Cole Caufield, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Nick Suzuki have spearheaded Montreal’s run to the Stanley Cup Final. They are all 21 years old or younger. The trio expects not to be intimidated by Tampa Bay. They have combined for 14 goals in these NHL playoffs. Suzuki and Caufield are power-play threats the Lighting must watch out for as well.
Tampa Bay can play with any style and poke holes into it. That being said, this should be a fun opener.
Take the Tampa Bay Lightning to cover the moneyline.
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Chris Wassel is a skilled scribe who possesses a fervor for both sports and entertainment. Boasting a journalism background and over two decades of experience, he has crafted pieces that encompass a diverse array of sports including hockey, basketball, football, and others. His writing is characterized by its lucidity and sharpness, and provides a unique viewpoint on entertainment and political matters. While Chris primarily focuses on sports writing, he also writes about a wide range of subjects.