2021 Stanley Cup Semifinal preview

Yes, the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs (and other NHL postseasons) are typically about favorites vs. underdogs. Take one peek at the Vegas chances and you’ll recognize simply how highly the Golden Knights are preferred over the Montreal Canadiens in their Semifinal series.

Yet, when you break down how groups play — instead of how many people feel about their Stanley Cup possibilities — you can see clashes of designs.

In some cases, you get too different-but-effective groups. You might argue that both the Golden Knights and Canadiens dealt with 2nd Round challengers who turned the switch; where Vegas and Montreal own the amount, Winnipeg, in specific, intended to eke out simply enough quality.

(Honestly, when they’re buzzing, the Avs type of nabbed both — simply not versus Vegas.)

[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Beyond the don’t-bet-your-mortgage chances preferring the Golden Knights versus the once-again-underdog Canadiens, this series is interesting since of designs.

Broadly speaking, the Golden Knights and Canadiens play likewise. Both groups bombard challengers, wanting to produce adequate offense by force of will. These are 2 of the greatest even-strength groups you’ll discover.

If you take notice of “fancy stats,” you’ve most likely observed that Montreal’s been powerful because method for a long time. So what’s altered? Well, you most likely saw this coming: “Playoff Carey Price” went into the structure.

Amongst all of the swirling factors to consider, the most essential X-factor in the Canadiens – Golden Knights series stays if we’ll see “Playoff Carey Price” or the more uncomfortable current routine season variation.

CANADIENS VS. GOLDEN KNIGHTS – series livestream link

Video Game 1: Mon., June 14: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 9 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Video Game 2: Wed. June 16: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 9 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Video Game 3: Fri. June 18: Golden Knights at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (U.S.A. Network / Peacock)
Video Game 4: Sun. June 20: Golden Knights at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
*Video Game 5: Tues. June 22: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 9 p.m ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
*Video Game 6: Thurs. June 24: Golden Knights at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (U.S.A. Network / Peacock)
*Video Game 7: Sat. June 26: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 8 p.m ET (NBCSN / Peacock)

*if essential

Offense

Throughout the routine season, the Golden Knights scored 190 objectives, the third-most in the NHL. On the other hand, the Canadiens were somewhat lower than middle-of-the-pack, creating 158 (17th total, in between the Blackhawks and Stars).

Even throughout these 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the name of Montreal’s video game hasn’t precisely been offense. Memorably, the Canadiens disturbed the Maple Leafs in 7 video games even after Toronto in fact scored more objectives (18-14).

With basically “two first lines,” and typically the high-end of Alex Tuch on the 3rd, the Golden Knights can toss out a genuinely challenging offense. Few groups would even attempt to trade haymakers with the Avalanche; the Golden Knights stood in there and in fact knocked Colorado out.

Unlike numerous other effective offenses, the Golden Knights can beat you with strength. A relentless forecheck assists Vegas use down challengers, requiring turnovers and rush chances.

While the Canadiens’ offense hasn’t constantly been incredible, you can’t completely dismiss them. As deep as Vegas is, Montreal’s a bit deeper. Josh Anderson‘s endured a quiet 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs (one goal, zero assists in 11 games), but is an example of Habs who could make a difference.

Watch out for the combination of Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. As Montreal’s trusted them a growing number of, they’ve included a vibrant measurement to the Habs’ offense. They may require some magic from those 2 versus the energetic Vegas attack.

(Oh, and no doubt, Max Pacioretty vs. his previous group is an enjoyable story.)

Benefit: Golden Knights

Defense

This one’s challenging.

If you performed a “fantasy draft” of the defensemen in this series, you may choose Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore prior to you discover a Habs defenseman. With other choices like Alec Martinez, the Golden Knights provide some depth, too.

You can’t credit offense and Marc-Andre Fleury alone for the Golden Knights beating the Avalanche. Their defense — and Peter DeBoer’s structure — made a huge distinction, too.

However if you go through the methods this series can play out in Montreal’s favor (believe Dr. Strange determining how Thanos might be beat), it’s most convenient to imagine the Canadiens winning thanks to a bend-not-break structure.

We’ve definitely seen it in the past: a challenger enables the Golden Knights a lots of shots, however does a good job restricting quality. If it boils down to that, Montreal won’t flinch at such a design.

However there’s an elephant in the space: Jeff Petry‘s health.

Yes, everyone’s banged up by the Semifinals of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, since this writing, it’s uncertain if Petry can play in Video game 1 on Monday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN), and perhaps beyond that.

Even today, Shea Weber deserves hype, and could be Montreal’s best defenseman. Petry has some say in that argument, however, and he’s crucial to that team finding some balance. Joel Edmundson‘s been impressive for the Canadiens, but without Petry, might the cracks show in his foundation?

Advantage: Golden Knights

Fleury

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Goaltending

If we were looking at the regular season alone, Fleury would give the Golden Knights a huge advantage over Price and the Canadiens. (Honestly, considering how much Price wavered as the starter, it would’ve been tempting to phrase it as Jake Allen and the Canadiens.)

But people — especially Carey Price’s most eager boosters — might roll their eyes at talk of Price’s regular-season struggles at this point.

Whether you should throw out those numbers or not, there’s no denying that Price has been brilliant during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Frankly, the Canadiens needed that out of Price vs. the Maple Leafs. Maybe Price could have cooled off a bit vs. the Jets, but he was mostly keyed-in there, too.

Yet, while Price’s save percentage (.935) these playoffs is even better than Fleury’s (.923), you can’t dismiss degree of difficulty. If any team can make a goalie look bad, it’s Colorado. MAF passed those tests with flying colors, though.

In case injuries or struggles happen, both the Golden Knights and Canadiens boast strong backups. Again, Allen encroached on Price’s starting job, although neither were lights-out during the regular season.

If things went as Vegas drew things up, it would be Robin Lehner shutting the door this season and postseason. That could make for some awkward offseason decisions, but for now, Fleury – Lehner gives the Golden Knights the equivalent of two above-average (often elite) starters.

Advantage: Golden Knights

Special teams

As far as the four teams remaining in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs go, only one can really live off of its power play: the Lightning.

Neither the Canadiens nor the Golden Knights have been overwhelmingly powerful in that area. But Montreal has the edge in power-play efficiency in both the regular season (19.2-percent to 17.8) and 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs (18.8 to 14.3).

The key question might be about the PK. The Golden Knights were the best penalty-killing team in the regular season (86.8-percent vs. Montreal’s 78.5), while Montreal has been incredible during this run. The numbers get drastic because of the small sample size of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Montreal’s PK (90.3-percent) is eye-popping, while Vegas mainly survived (71.4).

Talent-wise, it’s not outrageous to imagine Vegas “turning it on” and producing on the power play for a series. It just hasn’t happened often enough to chalk it up as an advantage.

Advantage: Canadiens

Golden Knights – Canadiens prediction: Vegas in 7

In our staff predictions, the Golden Knights and Lightning were both unanimous choices. The biggest area of variation was how many games the Canadiens might push the Golden Knights to.

Simply put, the Golden Knights are huge favorites against the Canadiens. To the point where you … probably shouldn’t bet on it.

But, particularly during these playoffs, would it be that shocking to see Montreal win?

Overall, this Golden Knights team looks like it could very well make its second Stanley Cup Final trip, unless the Canadiens have more upset magic in them.

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

Golden Knights vs. Canadiens: 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinal sneak peek initially appeared on NBCSports.com

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.