The Stanley Cup Final is back! There will be fans in the stands, and Canada is no longer a bubble. It’s a different feel, but the one constant is, the Tampa Bay Lightning are back. They made it all the way back, something many other previous cup winners were unable to do over the years. Here are the ten best players in the Final, in no order:
Kucherov is healthy enough to play. The Tampa winger was stretching and keeping a shoulder loose? That’s what I think, and my guess is he is wearing a harness. He was taking bumps and shooting as well as passing. His presence was massive for his club. Kucherov is behind Gretzky in playoff assists the past few years. The Great One has records of 31, 30, and 29 assists in the postseason. Kucherov had 27 last season, and he currently has 22. Being second in this category is still tremendous.
Vasilevskiy is the best goalie on the planet. He has been for two seasons running. The talented Russian doesn’t need awards to prove that. He is the people’s champion. No goalie has ever had the post-to-post speed to be a step ahead of shooters and while down in the splits have the core strength to seal the post. He’s 12-6 with a .932 save percentage this season. His career postseason save percentage is a stellar .923. He’s only 26. He is the greatest home-grown player in the history of the franchise.
There were murmurs that Victor Hedman has been playing injured in these playoffs. Well, join the club, most are, but we only noticed when he made a defensive mistake in this series. In game seven, the towering Swede had no points. However, Hedman played over 24 minutes. But in the corners and especially on the penalty kill, nobody was getting the puck away from him.
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Stamkos is the captain. He’s their emotional leader and the bloody face he endured after eating part of the dasher was a symbol of what this guy brings on every shift. Last year he gutted it out and got his Cup. Stamkos is only 31, and he has 17 points in 18 postseason games this year.
McDonagh is a different kind of guy. I did a book signing with him once and got to know him a bit. McDonagh is a man of few words and mostly action. He has the highest hockey I.Q. for any defenseman in the tournament. McDonagh gets some points, but his timely blocks and smart plays with physicality make him one of the best defensemen in the Stanley Cup.
Price needed to carry his team in the playoffs to cement his reputation as one of the best netminders of his era. The Habs don’t get this far without him. Just ask Jake Allen who’s had the best seat in the house. Price has a .934 save percentage in this postseason. It’s the highest for good reason. Price makes the right save at the right time.
Suzuki is a worldly rookie. He is an old soul, and his talent is continuing to grow. He’s second on the team in scoring and third in shots. Suzuki was drafted by Vegas and developed by Montreal.
Caufield provided the initial spark for the Canadiens when their offense was sagging. He was benched, mostly because of his youth, early on, and ever since then, Caufield has become a game-breaker.
Edmundson was the best under-the-radar signing Marc Bergevin provided in the offseason. At 27, this rugged blueliner is in his prime physically and mentally. He changes the course of the opponent’s offensive plays in every game.
Danault is an impending UFA. How much will he earn in the offseason? For now, he’s one of the best face-off men in the playoffs, and his shutdown defense has been invaluable.