I don’t think a less-skilled hockey team has ever made the Stanley Cup Finals than the 2021 Montreal Canadiens. The fact that they even reached the semi-finals is remarkable.
They do have a remarkable goaltender in Carey Price and he has kept them alive through most of the games until now. Without a doubt, he saved them in the first series against a superior Leafs team. As I watched that series unfold, I kept wondering what it was that Montreal actually had that gave them the victories in the last three games. Determination. Aggressive, smart, forward-looking offensive zone attitude, even when killing penalties. And Carey Price. And it was enough because Matthews and Marner didn’t perform, John Tavares was absent, and the Leafs still don’t have a playoff-caliber goaltender. Jake Campbell might have been adequate, had all other things been equal, but they were not.
The 2021 Canadiens are a team of nobodies. Whoever heard of Caufield? Petry? Kotkaniemi? Suzuki? Danault? Kehkonen? Well, guess what? The 1993 Canadiens, the last Canadian or Canadien team to win the Stanley Cup, were also a team of nobodies: Brisebois. Daigneault. Desjardins. Brashear. Brunet. Di Pietro.
Until the Tampa Bay Lightening came along, Montreal was able to disguise it’s lack of raw talent through utter diligence, frantic commitment, and Carey Price. But by Game 3 of the finals, the naked truth emerged: the Canadiens blundered around making bad passes, missing their checks, passing to players about to be checked, getting shouldered aside in the corners, and Tampa Bay simply out-skilled, out-muscled, and even out-hustled them. The turnovers finally killed Montreal, and Price had an uncharacteristically bad night. Montreal just doesn’t score more than 3 goals in any game– at least, almost never– so when Tampa Bay racked up 3, then 4, then 5, then 6, there was no chance.
Can Montreal come back from a 3-0 deficit?