TAMPA, Fla. — If the Montreal Canadiens win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1993, Carey Price is almost certain to take home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Price also stands a good chance at becoming the fifth goaltender and sixth player overall to win it with the runner-up if the Tampa Bay Lightning win back-to-back titles.
To do that, “You pretty well have to stand out,” said Reggie Leach, the only forward on a losing team to win the Conn Smythe.
Leach’s exploits came when the defending champion Philadelphia Flyers were swept by Montreal in the 1976 final. He scored 19 goals in 16 playoff games that year, which is still tied for the record.
For now. Brayden Point is the playoff MVP front-runner if the Lightning win, thanks to his 14 goals through 18 games. Point rode a nine-game goal streak that ended only in the semifinal series finale against the New York Islanders and is now hoping to start another run.
“Pucks have found ways into the net as of late, but I don’t think you’re thinking too much about it,” Point said. “Obviously, the stakes are higher and you’re making sure you’re competing in every shift but just trying to play the same way and be responsible and then just work for your chances.”
It’s Price’s job and Andrei Vasilevskiy’s at the other end of the ice to keep those chances from turning into goals. While Price gets the lion’s share of the credit for Montreal’s run with a 2.02 goals-against average and .934 save percentage, Vasilevskiy has a 1.99 GAA and .936 with four shutouts for Tampa Bay, which would make a pretty good Conn Smythe case.
“You don’t get to this level unless you’ve got great goaltending,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Hence why both goalies’ statistics are the same, why both teams are still playing — in large part it’s because the goalies have been great.”
POWER PLAY VS. PENALTY KILL
Tampa Bay’s stacked power play that includes Point, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn and reigning playoff MVP Victor Hedman has scored 20 times in 53 opportunities in the playoffs. Montreal’s penalty kill led by Price has allowed only three goals in 46 chances and scored four times short-handed.
The Canadiens have set the playoff record in going 13 consecutive games without allowing a power-play goal.
“Penalty-killing, the guys are playing great,” acting Canadiens assistant coach Luke Richardson said. “They’re playing confident. They’re playing aggressive. And that’s what we have to do. For them, they obviously have elite talent. And you can’t just take one player away because then they’ll pick you apart somewhere else.”
Montreal forward Joel Armia’s status is uncertain after going into NHL COVID-19 protocol Sunday, which could open the door for Jake Evans’ return. Evans has missed the past nine games with a concussion after being run over by Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele in the closing minutes of the second-round series opener. The NHL suspended Scheifele for four games.
Evans spent practice Sunday filling Armia’s spot on Montreal’s so-called “energy line,” rounded out by veterans Corey Perry and Eric Staal.
Evans’ injury led to Artturi Lehkonen taking his spot on Montreal’s checking line, alongside Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. Of Lehkonen’s three goals in his past nine games, two are game-winners, including his semifinal-clinching overtime goal in Game 6 against Vegas.
LOGGING A BIG LOAD
Montreal’s top defensive pair of Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot lead players among the two Stanley Cup finalists in averaging more than 25:30 of ice time. The Canadiens’ second defensive pairing of Jeff Petry (24:23) and Joel Edmundson (23:22) rank fourth and fifth.
Hedman, Tampa Bay’s No. 1 defenseman, ranks third at 24:42.
Richardson, a longtime defenseman, believes his four so-called “Clydesdales” can carry an even bigger load if needed.
“They have the endurance and the power: It’s very unique,” Richardson said. “So when you have one or two of those guys, it’s great. We have four, so that’s even better.”
Wawrow reported from Montreal.