Inside The Box is Puck Prose’s daily news bulletin, covering all the latest news and providing unique analysis and insight, while highlighting the NHL content you need in your lives.
This is it, the day where all the madness reaches a whole other level as we brace ourselves for the start of the first of two NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Semifinals, with the New York Islanders taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning later (3:00 p.m. ET).
More from Puck Prose
- NHL Free Agency: Top 4 best value Free Agents available on Day 2
- NHL Free Agency: Top 5 Free Agents still on the board after Day One
- NHL Free Agency: New Jersey Devils early winners after huge Dougie Hamilton splash
- NHL Free Agency: Seattle Kraken hit a statement home run with Grubauer addition
- Can Keith Yandle turn his career around like Kevin Shattenkirk did?
We will then be treated to an intriguing matchup between the Vegas Golden Knights and the upstart Montreal Canadiens in the other semifinal, which starts on Monday, and that leaves us with just four teams battling it out for the greatest prize in all of sports.
We briefly touched on what to expect from each semifinal here, and we’ll be delving into each showdown more closely and with a lot more detail over the next couple of days, starting with the Isles – Lightning showdown which is a repeat of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals.
However, for now, we are going to make a case for each team as to why they can go all the way and lift Lord Stanley this summer. Let’s delve right in…
One reason why all four teams left standing will win the Stanley Cup
Tampa Bay Lightning – Experience
You can’t put a value on having the knowledge of what it takes to win in the heat of postseason battle, and the Tampa Bay Lightning have that by the bucketload having overcome plenty of adversity to win the Stanley Cup in 2019-20 inside The Bubble.
Having fallen short time and time again, the Lightning finally scaled the mountain to win it all last year, learning from past mistakes to get their hands on Lord Stanley for the first time since 2004.
With all of the main pieces back for this season – including Nikita Kucherov after he missed the entire regular season with a knee injury – Tampa Bay is in prime position to repeat as champions and they can draw on all of their experiences from last year to help them on their way.
That’s exactly what the Pittsburgh Penguins did when they won back-to-back championships in 2016 and 2017, and the Lightning certainly have the goaltending, the firepower and the star power up and down the lineup to be able to follow in the footsteps of the Pens.
Granted, winning a Stanley Cup isn’t easy, let alone winning in back-to-back years, but knowing what it takes to win and knowing what it takes to survive the gruelling slog of postseason hockey is key and it is an advantage the Tampa Bay Lightning boast over the three other hopefuls.
New York Islanders – All-Round Excellence
We could have gone in a few different directions here but the one thing that really stands out about the New York Islanders right now is that they are firing on all cylinders in almost every single department.
While they are known for their defensive prowess and rigid structure, not to mention their elite goaltending, the Isles are starting to excel in other areas and they have the most goals (43) in the Playoffs of the four teams left standing.
The Isles are getting depth scoring and contributions from up and down the lineup, they are having success on the power play (28.1), they don’t give away too many penalties and they boast an elite game-changer in Mathew Barzal, who has nine points (3 G, 6 A) in 12 games.
In other words, the Islanders do everything to a very, very high level and that could be their recipe for success, both in taking down the Tampa Bay Lightning in the semi-final and in eventually going all the way and winning the Stanley Cup.
Vegas Golden Knights – Fan Frenzy
One of the main highlights of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs has been the return of fans, with three of the four teams left standing having close to full capacity arenas so far during the postseason.
And, while the atmosphere inside the Nassau Coliseum has been impressive for the Islanders, there is no doubt that T-Mobile Arena is the place to be on game nights with Vegas Golden Knights fans knowing how to throw a postseason party.
Crazy, bonkers and ultra-passionate are just some of the words you could use to describe Knights fans at T-Mobile Arena, and there is no doubt that the incredible atmosphere played a vital role in Vegas overturning a two-game deficit to stun the Colorado Avalanche in the previous round.
With Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens standing in their way, the Vegas crowd will have a huge role to play in creating an intimidating environment for their opponents, and the noise that barn generates could end up being the difference in a series I think will be a lot closer than a lot of people think.
Montreal Canadiens – Carey Price
This was an easy one. The main reason the Montreal Canadiens are four wins away from the Stanley Cup Final is their red hot goaltender, who has been playing at the absolute peak of his powers throughout the postseason.
We are witnessing vintage Carey Price right now and, as the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Winnipeg Jets found out, there is no stopping the elite goalie when he’s locked in and at his very best.
There have been question marks over Price’s ability to still be a game-changer for a few seasons now but, when his team has needed him the most, the veteran has truly delivered and he’s living up to his lofty stature and then some.
Through 11 postseason starts, Price boasts a 8-3-0 record to go along with a stellar .935 Save Percentage and a 1.97 Save Percentage, all of which are absolute stellar numbers.
In short, Price has dug deep to unearth another level and if he can maintain his current brilliance and wizardry between the pipes and in the crease, then the Montreal Canadiens could shock the hockey world again by getting past the Vegas Golden Knights and then finding a way to win it all.
This could be the year of Carey Price.