Kraken reportedly passing on Price, Tarasenko in NHL expansion draft

The game of chicken between Ron Francis and Marc Bergevin will end with Carey Price not heading to the Seattle Kraken.

According to a number of NHL insiders, the Kraken will use their Canadiens pick on defenseman Cale Fleury.

The news over the weekend that Price had been exposed by the Canadiens was a bit of an eyebrow raiser, but then it came out that he might require knee surgery and miss a large chunk of the 2021-22 NHL season. Still, there was a small case to make for him being drafted. Price would have been a “face of the franchise” type player, played junior hockey in Washington State, and was born in British Columbia.

But the case against drafting Price was obvious. He will be 34 in August, has five more years remaining on a contract that carries a $10.5M salary cap hit, and his game has been trending downward since his Vezina Trophy win in 2014-15.

Another star player the Kraken will be passing on is Vladimir Tarasenko. The 29-year-old forward has requested a trade out of St. Louis and was left unprotected by the Blues. Defenseman Vince Dunn, who is a pending restricted free agent, will reportedly be Seattle’s pick.

Tarasenko has two years left on his contract with a $7.5M cap hit. There were reports that teams were contacting Francis to inform him of their interest in making a trade should they pick the Blues forward. Now that Tarasenko will remain in St. Louis for the time being, GM Doug Armstrong can at least attempt to get assets in return.

Roster news slowly dripping out

The leaks are coming out hours before Wednesday’s expansion draft show. Jared McCann, Brandon Tanev, Carsen Twarynski, Mark Giordano, Vitek Vanecek, and Joey Daccord appear to be heading to Seattle. That news follows reports of Francis agreeing to sign defensemen Adam Larsson and Jamie Oleksiak, along with goaltender Chris Driedger.

Seattle’s expansion draft roster must feature at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goalies. The Kraken had a 10 a.m. ET Wednesday deadline to submit their 30 expansion draft selections to the NHL.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Signing Danault and Tatar together would be smart free agency move

There is a strong possibility that the Canadiens are going to look very different next season.

Shea Weber‘s future is in doubt, Carey Price could end up in Seattle after Wednesday’s Kraken expansion draft, and two-thirds of their best regular season line seem destined to exit via NHL free agency.

It goes without saying how significant Weber’s absence and the potential departure of Price would be, not only in terms of their on-ice contributions, but also the massive amounts of salary cap space it would open up for the front office.

You should also not overlook the importance of Danault and Tatar and what their departures could mean, because they have been excellent for the Canadiens over the past few seasons.

Tatar’s departure seems like a given seeing as how he clearly fell out of favor during the postseason, playing in just five games of their Stanley Cup Final run. Danault, meanwhile, also seems unlikely to return (via Sportsnet) and seems to be headed for NHL free agency later this month.

[Related: Picking Carey Price would be bold, risky move for Seattle Kraken]

On his own, Danault is going to have huge value on the open market because he is an outstanding defensive center that can also chip in more offense than he is sometimes given credit for. While his offensive game went cold in the playoffs, he has proven to be capable of 50-point offense with minimal power play time. When combined with his defensive play (which has earned him a top-seven finish in the Selke Trophy voting three years in a row) you have a an extremely valuable player that almost every team will have an interest in.

He will probably not be cheap. Take, for example, the rumored contract for Barclay Goodrow with Rangers that is reported as being in the neighborhood of $3.6M over six years. Danault is better offensively, better defensively, and plays center as opposed to win. It is not a stretch to think that Danault could get north of $6M on the open market. He is coming off a three-year contract that paid him just over $3M per season.

Here is a suggestion for any team that has a serious interest in Danault: Try to sign Tatar as well and reunite them on a new team. You might overpay Danault a little, but you might get Tatar on a bargain given how his postseason went. He has proven to be an excellent top-line scorer and has been Montreal’s leading scorer since arriving with the team in the Max Pacioretty trade. It is also a ready-made line that you know works.

[Related: Shea Weber could miss entire 2021-22 season]

Over the past three years Danault and Tatar spent 1,931 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time together with the Canadiens posting dominant numbers. They outscored teams by a 111-65 margin, while controlling more than 60% of the total shot attempts, scoring chances, expected goals, and high-danger scoring chances. That is an elite line.

The only concern would be the fact that Brendan Gallagher was also a part of that line, and he would not be joining them on their new team. And Gallagher did drive a lot of that success. But even when you look at Danault and Tatar when they were separated from Gallagher they still played at a high enough level to be extremely effective.

In an admittedly smaller sample size of just 440 minutes, the Danault-Tatar duo still controlled more than 56% of the shot attempts, scoring chances, expected goals, and high danger chances. The goal differential dropped down to just 17-16, but if a line keeps controlling shot attempts and scoring chances at that rate it is likely that goal differential will eventually start to match that territorial advantage.

This also comes with the assumption that you can get both players to sign in the same place to play for the same team, which is not exactly a given. It is still idea worth exploring given how we already know they are a productive line. Gabriel Landeskog, Taylor Hall, and Zach Parise will be the forwards everybody watches this offseason, but signing this duo might make an even bigger impact.

[Data In This Post Via Natural Stat Trick]

Picking Carey Price would be bold, risky (and chaotic) move for Kraken

Of all the big names to be left exposed for the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, none raised more eyebrows than the Canadiens’ decision to leave starting goalie Carey Price unprotected.

Price has been the face of the franchise for more than a decade, and just backstopped the team to a stunning appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.

For Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin, it is a very calculated gamble.

The Canadiens did not want to lose Jake Allen for nothing and could not find a suitable trade for him ahead of the 3 p.m. ET roster freeze on Saturday. Rather than make a bad trade or risk losing him, Bergevin decided to protect him and (at the suggestion of Price) play a rather bold game of chicken with Seattle.

[Related: NHL Mock Expansion Draft, projecting Kraken roster]

The thought process is simple: Montreal is banking on the fact that Seattle will not want to take on the remainder of Price’s contract that counts more than $10M against the cap per season for the next five years, especially as word leaks out that he could need surgery this offseason. When the Golden Knights entered the league in 2017 their expansion draft selections were loaded with players on short-term or expiring contracts to keep their salary cap flexibility in place. Kraken GM Ron Francis has already talked about how salary cap space is their big advantage, and it is hard to imagine they want to eat up too much of it on big-money, veteran players that other teams want to get rid of.

But Price is a very different situation. The Canadiens almost certainly do not want to lose him, and his exposure is entirely strategic based on the idea that they will not lose him.

The problem with that thought process is that if we are to believe reports that have surfaced since the expansion lists were set, Seattle is at least strongly considering the idea and apparently has the OK from ownership to take on the remainder of Price’s contract, even with his newly report health concerns.

It would be the type of move that seemed almost beyond comprehension just a few weeks ago and would be peak chaos for the NHL offseason.

[Related: NHL expansion draft: Best bargains, most interesting available players]

Argument for it: A face of the franchise and potential core building block

The obvious comparison here would be Vegas’ selection of Marc-Andre Fleury from the Penguins back.

Fleury was (and still is) a wildly popular player that was an instant marketing attraction for a new team trying to build a following. Price not only has that same sort of big name appeal, but he is also from the Pacific Northwest, just took a team to the Stanley Cup Final, and plays a position that could make him a significant impact player for a franchise just starting out.

It is not a stretch of a comparison.

Price, 33, is the same age that Fleury was when the Golden Knights selected him, and while his play the past couple of years has regressed from his peak, it is still on par with what Fleury was doing when he arrived in Vegas.

[Related: Lessons Kraken, rest of NHL can take from Golden Knights expansion draft]

Price has a .912 all situations save percentage and a .918 even-strength save percentage over the past three seasons, while also being money in each of his playoff appearances.

Fleury has a .918 all situations save percentage and a .922 even-strength mark in the three seasons before he went to the Golden Knights.

A slight edge to Fleury, but not dramatically so. Especially when you consider Fleury was playing behind a better team (a two-time Stanley Cup champion).

Argument against it: That contract carries a huge risk

Here is where the Fleury-Price comparison differs.

When Vegas added Fleury, he had two years remaining on his contract at a $5.5M salary cap hit. It was a low-risk move. Even if Fleury did not pan out as they had hoped, it was not going to be a cap-crushing contract or become an albatross. If anything, it probably would have been a tradable piece.

Price’s contract is an entirely different beast, still having five years at $10.5M per season remaining.

That’s a five-year, $52.5M investment (salary cap investment — it would be $44M in actual dollars) for a 33, and soon-to-be, 34-year-old goalie that might need surgery this offseason.

Even after re-signing Fleury to a three-year contract their overall investment in him was $31M over five years. And it is worth pointing out that by year three they had to acquire and re-sign another goalie (Robin Lehner) to complement him, and who finished each of the past two seasons starting over Fleury.

If Price does not provide what you hope, that is a big contract eating away at your one big advantage (salary cap space) tied to a player that will have a no-movement clause, complete control over where (or if) he goes if you can even find a team willing to take it. You could be end up being stuck.

Should Seattle pick Price?

It is an obviously intriguing idea, and one that Seattle has to seriously consider. A great goalie can completely change your franchise, and Price has a track record of being that type of player and still has the occasional ability to play at that level.

There is also an obvious PR and marketing win here with selecting him and making him the face of the franchise.

At the end of the day though it is still a results-based business based on wins. Is Price, at his age, and at that contract, still capable of playing at that level on a consistent basis? Of the 59 goalies that have appeared in at least regular 50 games over the past three seasons Price is 24th, 30th, and 20th respectively in all situations save percentage, even-strength save percentage and high-danger save percentage (via Natural Stat Trick).

Those are certainly not bad numbers, but they are not great, either. And for $10.5M per year against the cap over the next five years you better be expecting greatness.

There are a handful of goalies available in this very expansion draft that have comparable, or even better, numbers over the same time period with considerably less risk financially. It all comes down to how confident Seattle is that Price can be the goalie we saw in the playoffs on a more consistent basis, and how important it is for them to have a big name to build around.

It probably will not outweigh the on-ice risks. So for as bold as it would be, it would probably be best if Seattle went in a different direction with its goaltending position.

Price, Tarasenko, more: Biggest names (risks?) available in expansion draft

Before the protected and available players lists emerged, it seemed like the Kraken would be sifting through debris while making their expansion draft picks. The thinking was that, at best, they’d be unearthing diamonds in the rough. Instead, the Kraken must determine: is that big, shiny, flashing object (like Carey Price) worth a gamble?

In this post, PHT breaks down some of the biggest names (and contracts, and risks) available to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. Wednesday represents when the Kraken’s expansion draft picks will be announced.

Later on, we’ll discuss potential values/steals available to the Seattle Kraken during this intriguing expansion draft.

Seattle Kraken expansion draft rules refresher

Now, you might want a refresher on the Seattle Kraken expansion draft rules. (If not, scroll to the next section.)

Each NHL team (except the Golden Knights) needed to choose to protect players under two alignment options:

  1. Protecting seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie.
  2. Protecting any combination of eight skaters (example: four forwards, four defensemen), and a goalie.

That said, not every NHL player is involved, so some prospects were not available to the expansion draft. Meanwhile, NHL teams were forced to protect certain players because of contract factors. As the NHL explains:

* All players with no movement clauses at the time of the draft, and who decline to waive those clauses, must be protected and will be counted toward their team’s applicable protection limits.

* All first- and second-year professionals, and all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection and will not be counted toward protection limits.

So, the 30 NHL teams involved faced those considerations. What about some of the minimums and other factors for the Kraken in selecting players in the expansion draft? Here are some key details:

  • The Kraken must select at least: 14 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goalies. They’ll need to select one player from all 30 teams in the expansion draft.
  • At least 20 players must be under contract for the 2021-22 season. That part of the process once made it tougher to put together these PHT lists.
  • The total cap hit must fall somewhere between 60-percent and 100-percent of the upper limit of the salary cap.
  • Starting on Sunday (July 18), the Kraken open a window to exclusively negotiate with pending free agents who were not protected by NHL teams. If the Kraken signed one of those free agents, that player would count as Seattle’s pick for a given team.

Want even more detail? The NHL’s rules explained how injuries and other factors work.

Price, Tarasenko, Ovechkin? Biggest names, risks available in Kraken expansion draft

OK, let’s run down some of the biggest names (and, usually, cap hits) available in the Kraken expansion draft. Check out the full list of available players here.

Carey Price: Expansion draft pros and cons

Could Carey Price echo Marc-Andre Fleury as a veteran goalie who became the “face” of an expansion franchise?

If you judge Price based on some strong playoff work, then many will utter an emphatic “Yes!” It’s unclear how much people show up at the box office for a big-name goalie. Still, Price could give the Kraken a marketable name right out of the expansion draft.

But, goodness, would that ever be a risk.

Price, 33, carries a $10.5M cap hit for five more seasons. His contract has ranked among the worst in the NHL, at least until his playoff resurgence. (Full disclosure: it still scares me. A lot.)

While Price waived his clause for the expansion draft, the Kraken can’t just assume they can turn around and trade him, either.

As Johnston mentions, Price also receives that $11M signing bonus. If the Kraken were guaranteed quality goaltending, it might be worth it. Even then, are we certain they wouldn’t just be wasting strong performances behind a flawed team?

Sure seems like a huge gamble with murky odds of success to me. We’ll see if Ron Francis and the Kraken disagree.

Tarasenko an interesting risk

After trying to trade Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues exposed him to the expansion draft. That alone raises some red flags about the 29-year-old.

With three shoulder surgeries (and the Blues’ side of that situation driving a wedge?), Tarasenko’s a risk. He only played 10 games in 2019-20, and 24 in 2020-21. When he played last season, Tarasenko looked far from the elite sniper he once was.

Can he regain that form? Maybe not, but the Kraken might find Tarasenko appealing if he merely can be, say, 80-percent of that player. Theoretically, the Kraken can trade Tarasenko in the event that he rebuilds his reputation.

His contract itself is a mixed bag. Most importantly, it only runs for two seasons. If Tarasenko’s toast, it won’t linger on the books for ages. (Price, meanwhile, could rapidly become an albatross.)

The actual structure of Tarasenko’s contract is especially interesting. While Tarasenko carries a $7.5M cap hit for two more seasons, he gets paid very differently. Next season, he’s a pricey $9.5M; in 2022-23, he costs merely $5.5M in actual salary.

Would the Kraken really want to pay that much up front? Maybe not. The risk-reward ratio is absolutely fascinating, though.

JVR, Voracek, interesting/pricey Flyers

The Flyers began their offseason push with a shrewd Ryan Ellis trade. Will the Flyers lose a prominent (and expensive) player to the expansion draft?

  • James van Riemsdyk, 32, carries a $7M cap hit for two more seasons. In an otherwise bleak season for the Flyers, JVR was incredible. He’s a little older, and not cheap. But that strong season, and not too much term, make him intriguing.
  • Jakub Voracek, 31, commands an $8.25M through 2023-24. It sure sounds like the team and player might be ready to part ways. He certainly can score, yet is that mix of money and term right for Seattle?
  • If you consider the tepid interest in acquiring Shayne Gostisbehere, maybe he warrants a mention. Ghost, 28, carries a $4.5M AAV for two more seasons.

Gotta say, I don’t hate the idea of giving JVR a shot. That said, maybe the Kraken believe there are better values on younger expansion draft options?

Flames expose Giordano

There was some debate over whether the Flames would protect Christopher Tanev or Mark Giordano in the expansion draft. Now, the Kraken get to debate the merits of selecting Giordano from the Flames in the expansion draft.

  • On one hand, he’s getting up there in age. Giordano is 37.
  • That said, he’s not that far removed from winning a Norris Trophy. While his play has slipped, he’s still one of the best defensive options available.
  • His $6.75M cap hit is pricey, yet the risk is low. The contract expires after next season.

In Seattle’s shoes, I’d snatch Giordano, then test the trade market. Would a great deal pop up during the offseason? Might something better come up at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline? If nothing else, Giordano’s the sort of veteran presence teams twist themselves into a pretzel to get.

Big names with the big free agent caveat

  • Technically, the Capitals did not protect Alex Ovechkin. Multiple reports indicate that the Kraken would be wasting their time picking Ovechkin in the expansion draft, though.

(Want one scenario where Ovechkin would make sense for the Kraken? Perhaps if they simply didn’t want to choose a Capitals player. They have some nice options, there, though.)

Lightning round: Subban, Quick, other expansion draft options for Kraken

Here are some of the other notable names.

  • Like Carey Price, P.K. Subban boasts “face of the franchise” potential. He’s expensive at $9M, though, even if that deal is expiring. Subban hasn’t enjoyed the redemption arc Price as, and it’s tough to imagine the Kraken taking a risk to give him a chance to do that.
  • What about Jonathan Quick? A side deal would really only make sense for a 35-year-old whose $5.8M AAV lasts for two more seasons.
  • The Lightning provided one truly great option (Yanni Gourde), another noteworthy name (Ondrej Palat), and someone who’d likely require a bribe (Tyler Johnson). Between Gourde and some nice young players like Ross Colton and Alex Barre-Boulet, the Kraken have some options. Maybe the Lightning bribe them?
  • Also intriguing: two Islanders forwards. Jordan Eberle, 31, is quite effective. His deal is a mixed bag: $5.5M cap hit for three more seasons. Meanwhile, Josh Bailey, 31, is slightly cheaper ($5M) and also sees his deal expire after 2023-24.
  • It would be a really, really bad idea to pick $8M Predators centers Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen. They must be mentioned, because wow.

OK, even faster lightning round. Some other names that stand out, with many falling into the “only if teams bribe the Kraken” category:

Lots to choose from

Again, PHT will go deeper on players viewed as the best values. Some players mentioned above may also make it into that mix.

Yet, if the Kraken merely just throw caution to the wind, they have a ton of fascinating expansion draft options, eh?

Pretty stunning stuff. How would you approach these choices? Are you in that Carey Price club? Do tell.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Power Rankings: Conn Smythe Watch entering Stanley Cup Final Game 4

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take an updated look at the race for the 2021 Conn Smythe Trophy as Stanley Cup Playoff MVP.

With the Lightning entering Game 4 on Monday night holding a commanding 3-0 series lead, their players are going to dominate this week’s ranking because, well, odds are it is just a matter of when, and not if, they win the series.

Leading the way this week is their trio of Andrei Vasilevskiy, Nikita Kucherov, and Brayden Point. Montreal’s Carey Price is still the leader for the Canadiens but has taken a step back due to his start to the series.

Who else makes the NHL Power Rankings list this week?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning. He has a league best .938 save percentage this postseason and for the second year in a row has played every minute of the postseason. He is doing all of that for a team that is one game away from winning back-to-back Cups. The Lightning have had to rely on him to steal some games for them a little more frequently this postseason, and he has. Entering Game 4 (8 p.m. ET; NBC/Peacock) he has recorded a shutout in an NHL record four consecutive series clinching wins. He can extend it to five games on Monday. If he does, it would be the second straight Cup-clinching shutout for him.

2. NIkita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. He played zero games during the regular season and stepped right into the lineup at the start of the playoffs and immediately started dominating. He is leading the NHL in scoring for the second postseason in a row and has topped 30 points in each of those two years. He has been even better this season on a per-game basis and has at least one point in 16 games so far. That includes nine multi-point games, six three-point games, and a four-point game.

3. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning. His postseason goal scoring is at an historic level for his career with 36 goals in 65 games. That includes 14-goal efforts in each of the past two seasons. He had a nine-game goal scoring streak earlier this postseason.

[NHL ON NBC STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

4. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens. Price was easily the frontrunner entering this series and had built a pretty strong argument for winning the award whether the Canadiens won the Cup or not. He has really struggled so far in the series, though, and his place in the race has dropped a little. He is still a slam dunk winner if Montreal were to somehow come back and win this series (or maybe even if they lose in seven games) but he is no longer the clear winner as things stand right now.

5. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning. Hedman is trying to become the rare player to win the Conn Smythe in consecutive seasons. He has not been quite as dominant as he was a year ago when he won during Tampa Bay’s championship run, but he has still been the best defenseman and a key player on a team that is one game away from winning back-to-back titles.

6. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning. After playing just three minutes in the playoffs in 2020, Stamkos is getting an opportunity to contribute this season. He is making a huge impact with 18 points in Tampa Bay’s first 21 games, including eight goals.

7. Nick Suzuki, Montreal Canadiens. Suzuki has quickly become a cornerstone player for the Canadiens and for the second year in a row has been their most impressive forward in the playoffs. He has two of Montreal’s five goals through the first three games of the Cup Final and is probably, at this point, the one player on Montreal outside of Price that is in the discussion.

[Lightning aren’t giving Canadiens hope — or a lead]

8. Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning. Palat is one of the many secondary players that makes Tampa Bay’s roster the deepest in the league. He has been especially productive since the start of the semifinals with eight points (three goals, five assists) in the 10 games. That includes four points in the first three games of the Cup Final.

9. Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning. Great two player that has played some of his best hockey this postseason over the past two rounds. Not really a front runner for the award, but his performance deserves some recognition.

10. Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lightning. Killorn would probably be higher had it not been for the fact he has missed two games in the Stanley Cup Final. He has been great offensively when in the lineup and makes an impact in all phases of the game, playing a key role at even-strength, on the penalty kill, and on the power play.

2021 NHL playoff schedule: Stanley Cup Final – (TB leads 3-0)

Game 1: Lightning 5, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Lightning 3, Canadiens 1
Game 3: Lightning 6, Canadiens 3
Game 4: Mon. July 5: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock) – livestream
*Game 5: Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 6: Fri. July 9: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 7: Sun. July 11: Canadiens at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)

*if necessary

Canadiens are losing goaltending battle for first time in playoffs

Carey Price has finally met his match this postseason.

When examining the stunning success of the Montreal Canadiens in reaching the Stanley Cup Final, goaltending is the first place you can look. Price has played at a Conn Smythe level and been the Canadiens’ best player all postseason. In each of the first three rounds he was the best goalie on the ice and a game-changing (and series-changing) presence in each matchup.

He was lights out when the Canadiens needed to overcome a 3-1 First Round deficit against Toronto.

He shut down the Winnipeg Jets in a four-game sweep and outplayed last year’s Vezina Trophy winner, Connor Hellebuyck.

Then he outplayed both Marc-Andre Fleury (this year’s Vezina Trophy winner) and Robin Lehner (a Vezina Trophy finalist two years ago) in the semifinals.

In each series Price topped his counterpart in almost every major goaltending category. Nobody could match him save for save. When the Canadiens needed a stop, he gave it to them. They won the goalie battle every time. When you win the goalie battle, you are probably going to win the series.

[NHL ON NBC STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

That brings us to this series against Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Tampa Bay Lightning, which the Canadiens trail 2-0 heading into Game 3 (8 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream) on Friday night.

When you look at the overall numbers there is a good argument to be made that the Canadiens have, for the most part, held their own against the defending champs. They have the edge in shot attempts. They have more scoring chances and high-danger chances. Natural Stat Trick has them with a slight edge in expected goals in all situations and during 5-on-5 play. They put 43 shots on goal in their Game 2 loss while only allowing 23 shots against. There is reason to believe that they are playing far better than the 8-2 aggregate on the scoreboard would lead you to believe.

The biggest difference? For the first time this postseason they are not only losing the goalie battle, they are getting completely blown out in it through the first two games.

Here is a quick look at situational save percentages (via Natural Stat Trick) for the Canadiens and their opponents in each round. Notice the advantage they had in the first three rounds, especially in the second and third rounds, and the disadvantage they are at here.

The only round before this where it was even close was the First Round series against Toronto, and even that was a tale of two different series. In Games 5 through 7, where Montreal won three in a row to take the series, Price dominated it. That is where he really started his run toward Conn Smythe contention.

Against Winnipeg and Vegas it was not even close, especially on the penalty kill where Price was quite literally perfect.

But look at the series against Tampa Bay and see where the edge sits. All on the Lightning side with Vasilevskiy. It is not even so much that Price is playing poorly. The Canadiens have certainly not helped him out with their puck management and have given the Lightning way too many chances in transition, a terrible recipe for success against this team.

What it’s really about is Vasilevskiy not blinking and not giving Montreal anything. It is another stunning performance from the league’s best goalie who continues to shine in the biggest moments. Entering the series Vasilevskiy had overall numbers that matched Price’s through the entire playoffs, while carrying a streak of four consecutive shutouts in series clinching wins. Now, two games into the Stanley Cup Final, he has allowed only two goals. He is the best goalie in hockey, and seems to elevate his game even more in the bigger situations.

[Canadiens remaining confident ahead of Game 3]

This is a big part of what makes the Lightning such a powerhouse team in the NHL right now.

Their forwards and defense are as good as anybody else in the NHL. They have star power and individual award winners at each level of the ice, with Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Steven Stamkos leading the forwards and Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, and Mikhail Sergachev carrying things on defense. That alone makes them a Stanley Cup contender and one of the best teams in the league. But when you add what is probably the best goalie into the league behind that as a last line of defense and it just makes them a complete force. They have leaned on Vasilevskiy more this postseason than they did a year ago on their Stanley Cup run, and he has been amazing.

There is still time for this to turn around for Montreal. Price went into superman mode starting as late as Game 5 against Toronto to help get Montreal through that series, and he is certainly capable of doing it again.

The problem is going to be that even if he does, the goalie at the other end still might be able to match him save for save.

Goaltending helped the Canadiens get here.

Now they are getting a taste of what life has been like on the other side.

2021 NHL playoff schedule: Stanley Cup Final – (TB leads 2-0)

Game 1: Lightning 5, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Lightning 3, Canadiens 1
Game 3: Fri. July 2: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock) – livestream
Game 4: Mon. July 5: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock) – livestream
*Game 5: Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 6: Fri. July 9: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 7: Sun. July 11: Canadiens at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)

*if necessary

Lightning too much for Canadiens in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

No, it didn’t always feel like the 5-1 final score. Still, the Tampa Bay Lightning looked like the heavy favorites in Game 1, taking a 1-0 series lead against the Canadiens.

Quick start, quick strikes from Bolts

It didn’t take the Lightning very long to take a 1-0 lead over the Canadiens in Game 1. They went up 1-0 less than seven minutes into the contest.

On one hand, Erik Cernak found some open space in a dangerous area in transition. On the other hand, it was kind of a funky one. If Game 1 is any indication, you might not beat Carey Price or Andrei Vasilevskiy cleanly very often during the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

Through the first period, both teams were whistled for a penalty apiece (penalties that drew criticism on Hockey Twitter). Neither team was able to score a power play goal, so that marks 31 consecutive successful penalty kills for the Canadiens. That streak would eventually end in garbage time, when Steven Stamkos scored a 5-1 goal at a strange angle.

During the second period, Yanni Gourde pounced on another Montreal turnover to make it 2-0. But Vasilevskiy and Price made some big saves before Ben Chiarot joined Erik Cernak as unexpected Game 1 scorers.

[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Being that Chiarot’s goal came with a bit more than two minutes remaining in the second period, the Habs must have felt a lift going into the third. Then they experienced a painful gut-punch.

Once again, the Lightning made the Canadiens pay for a turnover in Game 1. It first appeared that Ondrej Palat batted in a nice transition feed from Nikita Kucherov. Instead, the puck last went off of Ben Chiarot. (Kucherov would receive credit for the goal.)

Credit Chiarot for scoring a goal, but the Habs likely hope he isn’t so noticeable in Game 2 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN / Peacock), and beyond.

Bloody Gallagher, but not much drama late in Game 1 of Canadiens – Lightning

That 3-1 goal earlier in third created distance. A sweet little set play, complete with a Nikita Kucherov (or was it Brayden Point?) tally after a faceoff, made Game 1 fairly academic.

Realistically speaking, a 4-1 score likely meant that the rest of Game 1 of Canadiens – Lightning would revolve around violence. Things got chippy, at times, including scrum that left Brendan Gallagher bloody.

The two teams piled up most of their Game 1 penalties when things weren’t close. That Stamkos PPG was mostly irrelevant, aside from ending Montreal’s astounding PK streak at 31 kills.

There was nastiness between the Habs and Bolts in Game 1. It was close for stretches. But did Montreal manage to make Tampa Bay comfortable all that often? They’ll need to do better or Game 2 could look more like the third period than the Canadiens would prefer.

CANADIENS VS. LIGHTNING  (TBL leads 1-0) – series livestream link

Game 1: Lightning 5, Canadiens 1
Game 2Wed. June 30: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 3Fri. July 2: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 4Mon. July 5: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 5Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 6Fri. July 9: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 7Sun. July 11: Canadiens at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (NBC)

*if necessary

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Lightning vs. Canadiens 2021 Stanley Cup Final preview

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens present us with a very unlikely Stanley Cup Final matchup. Not only because the two teams were separated by 17 points in the standings during the regular season, but because in a normal year with a normal schedule and a normal playoff format they could never even meet in this round.

On one side, we have the defending champion Lightning. A fast, skilled, experienced, playoff-tested team that has established itself as one of the league’s superpower franchises on the ice. They are loaded with All-Stars and NHL award winners all over the roster and have one of the most complete teams in the league.

On the other we side we have a Canadiens team that is playing to end a 28-year championship drought for not only their own franchise, but for an entire nation that has now put its support behind them.

It all starts on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN / Peacock) in Tampa Bay.

Here are the main storylines to watch for.

Three Storylines For The Series

1. An elite goalie matchup. At different times over the past decade Carey Price and Andrei Vasilevskiy have been considered the league’s best goalie. Price had a strong claim to that title between 2013 and 2017 when he was posting huge numbers and elevating the Canadiens to a level that was probably above their talent level at the time. He won a Vezina Trophy during that stretch and finished in the top-four of the voting two other times (including another year as a finalist).

While his play has declined over the past couple of years, he has still been magnificent in the playoffs the past few years.

Vasilevskiy is the league’s best goalie today and has been ever since he took over the starting job in Tampa Bay. He is a Vezina finalist every year, is always among the league leaders statistically, has been extremely durable, and has been incredible in big moments. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having recorded a shutout in four consecutive series-clinching wins, an NHL record.

What is remarkable about both of their postseasons this year is how identical their overall numbers have been.

  • Price: .934 all situations save percentage, .932 even-strength, .952 penalty kill, 2.02 goals against
  • Vasilevskiy: .936 all situations save percentage, .942 even-strength, .897 penalty kill, 1.98 goals against

Goalie matchups do not get much bigger than this.

[Related: How the Canadiens shocked the NHL]

2. Legacies and history. Speaking of Price, he has done just about everything a goalie can do in hockey with one big exception: The Stanley Cup.

He’s an Olympic gold medalist, has been a league leader in wins and save percentage, and is a six-time NHL All-Star. The Stanley Cup is the only thing remaining, and now, at age 33, he gets his first opportunity to play in the Cup Final. If he is able to backstop the Canadiens to one of the most improbable and unlikely championship runs it is probably the last missing piece he needs for a Hall of Fame resume.

It is a similar story for defenseman Shea Weber who is getting his first Cup Final appearance in his 16th NHL season at the age of 35. Given where they are in their careers they are not going to get many more opportunities like this in their careers.

On a team level, the Canadiens are looking to win the 25th Stanley Cup in franchise history and the first since the 1993 season. That would also end the championship drought for all of the Canadian NHL franchises.

[Stanley Cup Final Roundtable: Series difference, why each team can win]

3. Lightning going for the repeat. Whether they win this series or not the Lightning have already established themselves as the elite team in the NHL right now. Since the start of the 2014-15 season they lead the league in regular season wins, playoff wins, playoff series wins, and are playing in their third Stanley Cup Final during that stretch. Outside of that First Round sweep at the hands of Columbus two years ago (following an NHL record 62-win regular season) they are constantly going far in the playoffs. The outcome of this series will not change that.

But if they do win it and successfully defend their title, that takes them an entirely different level of success. That puts them among the all-timers as a repeat champion. Over the past three decades there have only been three other repeat champions (the Pittsburgh Penguins on two different occasions in 1991 and 1992, and then in 2016 and 2017; the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998).

Big Question For The Lightning: Can their power play solve Montreal’s penalty kill?

This is your classic unstoppable force vs. immovable object matchup.

The Lightning enter the series with a power play unit that is scoring on more than 37% of its opportunities this postseason, which is absurdly high rate for a team this deep into the playoffs. Going back over the past 20 seasons, no team that has played in at least 18 playoff games in a single postseason has ever had a power play that efficient, while only one team (the 2018-19) Bruins topped the 30 % mark (32.4). So they are clicking at a rate that no team scores at.

You take a penalty against this team, they are going to make you pay for it.

[NHL ON NBC STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

But for as dominant as the Lightning power play has been, Montreal’s penalty kill has been equally dominant.

The Canadiens enter the series having killed 93% of their penalties this postseason, a mark that would also be the best in the NHL over the past 20 years (minimum 18 games played in a single postseason). Price has been a huge part of that, but the Canadiens have also been great at suppressing shots and chances.

Something has to give here.

Big Question For The Canadiens: Can Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher shut down another star?

Danault has played 17 games for the Canadiens this postseason has yet to score a goal. He has three assists. And he is still one of the Canadiens’ most important players for his ability to help shut down each team’s opposing star forward.

In the first three series the Canadiens have limited Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Mark Stone, and Max Pacioretty to a combined four goals. All of them saw significant time against Danault and Gallagher in their series.

[Related: Stanley Cup Final X-Factors]

Together, the Danault-Gallagher duo has played more than 185 minutes of hockey together this postseason in all situations. With them on the ice the Canadiens have allowed zero goals and completely tilted the ice in their favor in terms of shot attempts, scoring chances, and expected goals. They have done all of that while being deployed in almost exclusively defensive roles (specifically defensive zone starts to shifts). During the regular season the Canadiens outscored teams by a 23-7 margin with that duo on the ice during 5-on-5 play and, again, controlled the game territorially. They have been magnificent. They are almost certainly going to get tested again with Point and Kucherov.

Potential Impact Player To Watch For Lightning: Brayden Point

It probably goes without saying right now that Point is the player to watch given his historic post season goal scoring.

He enters the series with 14 goals in 18 games, and is leading the league in postseason goal scoring for the second year in a row. For his career he already has 36 goals in 62 playoff games, a goal scoring pace that puts him among the giants of the games.

Potential Impact Player To Watch For Canadiens: Cole Caufield

Carey Price is the player driving this run. Tyler Toffoli has been their most consistent player all season. Nick Suzuki is going to be a franchise cornerstone. Phillip Danault is the shutdown guy. All of them are playing an essential role. Caufield, though, can be the player that changes a game or a series. He has that sort of potential and has shown it quite often since joining the team late in the season. He has quickly become one of the Canadiens’ most dangerous offensive players and has at least one point in seven of their past eight games. He also has a goal in four of the past six games.

2021 NHL playoff schedule: Stanley Cup Final

Game 1: Mon. June 28: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 2: Wed. June 30: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 3: Fri. July 2: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
Game 4: Mon. July 5: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 5: Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 6: Fri. July 9: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 7: Sun. July 11: Canadiens at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)

*if necessary