TAMPA, Fla. — Playoff scoring leader Nikita Kucherov had two goals and an assist and Andrei Vasilevskiy finished with 18 saves to 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.
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Tampa.
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.
Chiarot hit the post early in the second period with his team trailing 1-0. He finally got Montreal on the scoreboard when a shot that deflected off Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev eventually made it through Vasilevskiy at 17:40 of the period.
Cernak also scored his first career postseason goal for Tampa Bay. The defenseman playing in his 46th playoff game beat Carey Price from the slot off a pass from Ondrej Palat at 6:19 of the opening period.
Gourde redirected Blake Coleman’s shot for a 2-0 lead at 5:47 of the second.
Playoff goals leader Brayden Point also assisted Cernak’s goal for Tampa Bay, which had never won Game 1 of a Stanley Cup Final. Point missed the net on a power-play opportunity, and Price made a nice glove save to deny Stamkos from adding to Montreal’s deficit.
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.
Montreal forward Joel Armia was scratched after being cleared from COVID-19 protocol and being flown by private jet to Florida earlier in the day.
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 — 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.