Sports are fun for lots of reasons. The action and the speed. The athletes that we root for. But maybe the biggest reason to love sports?
They are so unpredictable! It doesn't matter who is the 'better' team according to the experts (or you!). Once the game begins, every competitor has a chance to buck the odds and come out on top.
Case in point: The 2021 Montreal Canadiens, who tonight star in the Stanley Cup Final against the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning. It's a final no one predicted. And it is one that may end up in the most famous victory for a team whose history is full of them.
Habs meet history
Sometimes these things are a matter of opinion, but in this case, you really can't argue it—the Montreal Canadiens (a.k.a. the Habs) are the greatest hockey club ever. They've won 24 Stanley Cups—easily the most of any team, and nearly a quarter of all of the Cups awarded in NHL history! But in the last nearly 30 years, their story has not been so fantastic. Despite some impressive moments here and there, they have never been able to break through to another final since their last Cup win: 1993 over the Los Angeles Kings.
And truth be told, they weren't supposed to make it this year either! They had the worst regular season record of all 16 playoff teams. They lost more games than they won. Critics and fans alike called the team too ordinary and lacking the skill needed to beat the best. And then, in the first round of the playoffs, they were down three games to one to the Toronto Maple Leafs. But remember what we said about sports being unpredictable? Well, since that moment, Montreal has won 11 games and lost only two.
It's been a fairy tale for fans. And now, they just need four more wins to make the impossible the inevitable! The only problem? Tampa Bay is very, very, very good.
How the teams match up
How has Montreal done it? While those critics were right that the Habs lack high end skill, they are built to do one thing very well. They check opponents tightly and with discipline, frustrating teams for minutes on end. Then when their opponents make a mistake? They pounce! This is called a counterattack, and most of Montreal's goals this playoff have come from them. In particular, they've been driven by three young players who are the future of the team: Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki, and rookie Cole Caufield.
And the Canadiens' highest paid player has been their best: goalie Carey Price. Price is playing his best hockey in many years and is proving one of hockey's greatest truths. If your goalie is hot, your team can accomplish anything.
That's good news for Montreal because they won't find a tougher challenge than the Tampa Bay Lightning. If this team has a weakness, we haven't seen it. Their goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy, is arguably the top goalie in the league and a perfect match for Price. Their best defender, Victor Hedman, is tall, mobile, tough, and tireless—a player who moves with the ease of a figure skater. And their best forward is so good at scoring, his last name is Point ... literally! (And Brayden Point's linemate Nikita Kucherov is leading the playoffs in scoring.)
In their last three rounds, Tampa Bay beat two Top 5 teams (Florida and Carolina), and last year's semi-finalists, the New York Islanders. They are battle-tested and ready. And they are the defending champs.
So there you have it. This year's Stanley Cup pits the league's best team against its biggest underdogs. Can the Habs reach back into their history to pull off their most amazing victory yet?
Can you predict the unpredictable?