Each of the remaining Stanley Cup semifinal series has a hint of a David vs. Goliath feel to it.
The defending-champion Tampa Bay Lightning were the overwhelming favorites to get past the Islanders for a second-straight time in the semifinal stage — defeating New York last season in the Eastern Conference Final within the Edmonton bubble in six games.
Meanwhile, the last remaining Western Conference side remaining, the Vegas Golden Knights, were expected to have a cakewalk against the lowest remaining seed, the Montreal Canadiens. The Knights came out on the other side of a slugfest with the high-powered Colorado Avalanche — who many tabbed as the favorite to win the Stanley Cup this season — in the Western Division final.
But neither series has necessarily gone to plan.
The Islanders tied up their series against the Lightning at two games apiece on Saturday night with a thrilling 3-2 victory that featured a sliding save for the ages by defenseman Ryan Pulock on Tampa defenseman Ryan McDonagh in the very last seconds of regulation to secure the win.
It’s a sizable improvement for an Islanders team that never came close to sniffing a series lead last season against Tampa.
Even more surprising is the play of the Canadiens, who are no strangers to upsetting some of the giants. They got through the Northern Division favorites, the Toronto Maple Leafs, in seven games despite a stark gulf in class between the rosters on paper.
They quickly disposed of the favored Winnipeg Jets in the division final to set up the unlikely meeting with Vegas. They continued their Cinderella run by taking two of the first three games — which was two more wins than many expected Montreal to even acquire.
But the Stanley Cup Playoffs always provide a bit of mystique that leads one to believe that the ghosts from the past can dip down from the hockey heavens and even make the largest of underdogs competitive.
The Canadiens are the NHL’s most successful and storied franchise; the Original 6 club having won 24 Stanley Cups. The Islanders are seen as the last great dynasty in sports as the last North American team to win four-straight championships from 1980-1983. Now they’re on another improbable one during the final season of their original home at Nassau Coliseum.
In reality, though, it’s a testament to the parity that’s in the league, even if we could see a repeat champion for just the second time in 23 years.
Here is how the series lines currently look, courtesy of DraftKings:
New York Islanders vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
- Lightning to win: -230
- Islanders to win: +185
Montreal Canadiens vs. Vegas Golden Knights
- Golden Knights to win: -155
- Canadiens to win: +130