Playoff scoring leader Nikita Kucherov had two goals and an assist and Andrei Vasilevskiy finished with 18 saves to outplay Carey Price and lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 5-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final on Monday night.
Kucherov put the defending champs up 3-1 early in the third period with a fluky goal that Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot tried to bat down with his hand before it wound up in the net.
Kucherov scored again at 11:25 of the third, then assisted on Steven Stamkos’ power-play goal that made it 5-1 with just over a minute to go. The Canadiens had not given up a power-play goal in an NHL playoff-record 13 consecutive games.
“We have a game plan, and we have a recipe,” Lightning captain Stamkos said. “And if we go out there, we believe that if we do the right things that we’re going to get rewarded for it and we have so far to get to this point and I thought we did that tonight.”
Vasilevskiy, a favorite to win the Vezina Trophy for the second time in three years, lost a bid for a fifth shutout this postseason when Chiarot scored his first career playoff goal for the Canadiens late in the second period. The Russian goaltender blanked the New York Islanders twice in the semifinals, including 1-0 in Game 7. Chiarot’s goal ended Vasilevskiy’s streak of not yielding a goal at 97 minutes, 40 seconds.
Price made his Stanley Cup Final debut in his 14th season with the Canadiens. He’s the first goaltender in league history to win more than 400 regular-season and playoff games combined before appearing in a Cup final. Meanwhile, center Jake Evans was in the Canadiens lineup after missing nine games due to a concussion.
The Lightning are in the Stanley Cup Final for the third time since 2015. The Canadiens have won a NHL-record 24 championships, though none since 1993, which was Tampa Bay’s first season in the league and the last time Montreal played on hockey’s grandest stage.
Tampa Bay eliminated the Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders along the way, with Vasilevskiy extending an impressive streak of shutouts in series-clinching victories to four dating to last year Cup Final against Dallas.
Montreal had the worst record among 16 playoff qualifiers this season, but with Price leading the way the Canadiens played superb defense in ousting the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and Vegas Golden Knights.