The Tampa Bay Lightning answered several questions Monday night in their quest for a Stanley Cup repeat.
How effective would leading scorer Nikita Kucherov be after missing all but one shift of Game 6 in the last round?
Could their spectacular power play connect against the Montreal Canadiens' even more impressive penalty killing unit and could they solve goalie Carey Price?
Kucherov scored twice and Steven Stamkos connected on the power play in the third period as the defending champion Lightning piled on for a 5-1 win in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
They got the puck past Price with deflections and screens.
"I think that's the key, going on the inside, driving the net and taking his eyes away," said Yanni Gourde, who got his stick on a Blake Coleman shot to deflect the puck past Price in the second period.
Game 2 will be Wednesday night in Tampa.
The Lightning are looking to become the first team to repeat as champions since the 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins.
A look at Game 1:
Lightning's top line thrives
Kucherov's first goal was on a Montreal own goal, but he wristed a shot past Price for a 4-1 lead after a Tampa Bay faceoff win.
Kucherov, who was held off the scoreboard in Game 7 against the Islanders, finished with two goals and an assist. Brayden Point, who had a nine-game goal streak during the second and third rounds, had three assists.
Kucherov has 30 points after sitting out all of the regular season with a hip surgery.
"We just stick to our game plan," he said. "Coaches tell us what to do and we're doing a hell of a job listening to them."
Kucherov and Point assisted on Stamkos' power-play goal, which put Tampa Bay up 5-1. The Canadiens had gone 13 games without allowing a power-play goal.
"We know what we have with our power play group and we know the plays that we can make," Stamkos said. "And when we're confident and when we're making those plays, we go out there and execute and we did that at the end. So maybe a little confidence for our (power play) going forward."
Two defensemen picked up their first career playoff goal during the game.
Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak deflected an Ondrej Palat pass past Price in the first period for a 1-0 lead.
It was his first playoff goal in 46 postseason games.
Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot ended an even longer playoff drought with a goal in his 52nd postseason game.
His shot deflected off two Lightning players to pull Montreal to within 2-1.
Chiarot had bad luck later when he knocked the puck past his own goalie as Tampa Bay took a 3-1 lead.
"I was just trying to throw it at the net and see what happened, and fortunately it was a lucky bounce," Kucherov said.
Gallagher bloodied, Killorn hurt
Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher was bloodied when his helmet came off as he was wrestled to the ice by Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev during the third period.
Lightning forward Alex Killorn played only one shift after blocking a shot in the second period.
“Obviously he couldn’t go down the stretch there,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Hopefully we’ll see tomorrow.”
Country vs. country
The 2021 Stanley Cup Final is the first between teams from the USA and Canada since the Boston Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks in seven games in 2011.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau challenged U.S. President Joe Biden to a friendly wager, and it was accepted.
No word on what's at stake.
No Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since the Canadiens defeated the Los Angeles Kings in 1993.
Canadiens forward Jake Evans (concussion) returned to the lineup for the first time since he left the ice on a stretcher in Game 1 of the second round.
Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele was suspended four games for bowling over Evans after he scored an empty net goal.
"A brain injury is a serious thing to not rush back, and I just wanted to take my time with it," Evans said.
Evans replaced Joel Armia, who cleared COVID-19 protocol and flew on a private jet to Tampa. He took part in warmups but the Canadiens coaching scratched him because he had been at home for several days.
Interim coach Luke Richardson liked what he saw from Evans.
"We thought he played very heads-up hockey," he said.
Contributing: The Associated Press.