Lightning aren’t giving Canadiens hope — or a lead

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It has been 23 years since the Stanley Cup Final has ended in a four-game sweep.

Thanks to their emphatic 6-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night to take a 3-0 series lead, the Tampa Bay Lightning will have an opportunity to break that streak on Monday night.

Honestly, it would probably be a mild shock if they did not do it with the way this series is starting to go.

While the Canadiens have attempted to hang with the defending champs as best they can, they simply have not had an answer for the Lightning’s offense, defense, and especially starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.

There was some reason to believe that Montreal might be able to get back into this series heading into Game 3, especially after an improved performance on Wednesday. The shots were there. The chances were there. You could make the argument the process itself was there. But the Lightning quickly stomped out that hope in the first three minutes on Friday night with goals from Jan Ruuta and Victor Hedman on consecutive shots just four minutes into the game.

[NHL ON NBC STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

When Phillip Danault scored late in the period to bring Montreal back to within one, there was a sense that Montreal was maybe starting to wrestle some momentum away from the Lightning. That maybe they could steal a winnable game and make it a series.

Then Tampa Bay opened the second period with two more quick goals to deliver what might have been a knockout punch. Or at least one that has left the Canadiens stumbling into the corner.

Tampa Bay’s dominance on the scoreboard is really starting to show itself.

In three games the Lightning have yet to trail the Canadiens for even a single second of hockey.

They are just the fourth team in the post-Original Six era to win the first three games of a Stanley Cup Final without ever trailing, joining the 2012 Los Angeles Kings and two previous Canadiens teams from the 1970s.

Their 14 goals are tied for the most through three games in a Stanley Cup Final series dating back to the 1984 playoffs.

Overall they have outscored the Canadiens by a 14-5 margin.

They have also been relentless and completely unforgiving. Every mistake the Canadiens make it ending up in the back of the net. That was the theme in Games 1 and 2 of the series, and it continued on Friday night.

[Lightning one win from Stanley Cup repeat after Game 3 win]

Tampa Bay’s first goal came on the ensuing face off after Montreal iced the puck on an unforced error. The second goal came on the power play after Eric Staal airmailed the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. And then after Montreal cut the lead in half, another bad turnover combined with a terrible line change early in the second period gave Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov a 2-on-0 rush for the third goal. Just a few minutes later Tyler Johnson scored on another odd-man rush to make it a 4-1 game. There was no coming back from that on Friday for Montreal.

It also continues what has been an absolutely incredible postseason run by this Lightning core over the past seven years. This is their third Stanley Cup Final during that stretch, and they are now just one win away from winning it for the second time. If they do, it will make them just the fourth team since 1990 to successfully defend its title, joining the Pittsburgh Penguins (1990-91 and 1991-92; as well as the 2015-16 and 2016-17 Penguins) and the Detroit Red Wings (1996-97 and 1997-98).

[Three takeaways from Lightning Game 3 win]

If you want to try and downplay that due to the playoff format and weird seasons the past two years, you can try. But the bottom line is this is their second postseason in 10 months through a bubble, condensed schedules, and every other weird thing they have had to play through. No matter who you play or what format it is in, that is a lot of hockey in a short period of time under unique circumstances and formats.

They also currently sit at 69 playoff wins since the start of the 2014-15 postseason, and if they get the next win they need in this series will be at an even 70 during that stretch. No other team has more than 42 since then, while only two (Pittsburgh and Washington) have more than 40 wins. They are, and have been, head and shoulders above the rest of the league.

The easy takeaway here would be look at Montreal as a team that does not belong here, or only made it as a fluke. But the bottom line is that Tampa Bay is simply a different beast of a hockey team. It has made a lot of really good teams look really bad at different times over the past two years. With Friday’s win the Lightning are 29-12 over the past two postseasons, with only seven of those losses coming in regulation. That is an incredible run, and just illustrates how different they are from everybody else in the league right now.

2021 NHL playoff schedule: Stanley Cup Final – (TB leads 3-0)

Game 1: Lightning 5, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Lightning 3, Canadiens 1
Game 3: Lightning 6, Canadiens 3
Game 4: Mon. July 5: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock) – livestream
*Game 5: Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 6: Fri. July 9: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 7: Sun. July 11: Canadiens at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)

*if necessary

More NHL News

3 Takeaways: Lightning – Canadiens 2021 Stanley Cup Final Game 3 Lightning one win from Stanley Cup repeat after Game 3 victory vs. Canadiens Canadiens are losing goaltending battle for first time in playoffs

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Lightning aren’t giving Canadiens hope — or a lead originally appeared on NBCSports.com