The abbreviated 2021 NHL season saw a temporary change in divisional alignments based on the COVID-19 pandemic. With cross-border travel prohibited the seven Canadian teams would make their own Division (the North Division) and join three other eight-team divisions (East, West and Central).
Which teams advanced to conference finals in 2021?
Tampa Bay Lightning (Central Division) vs. New York Islanders (East Division)
Vegas Golden Knights (West Division) vs. Montreal Canadiens (North Division)
The 2021 NHL alignment eliminated “conferences” for a year. Instead of having an Eastern and Western Conference, the final four teams were seeded based on regular-season record with the No. 1 seed Vegas facing No. 4 Montreal and No. 2 Tampa Bay taking on No. 3 New York Islanders.
The Lightning and Islanders, a rematch of the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals, proved to be a fierce battle with the exception of a shocking 8-0 Lightning win in Game 5 to give the defending champions a 3-2 series lead. New York rallied from a 2-0 deficit in Game 6 and won on Anthony Beauvillier’s overtime goal to win 3-2 tie the series at 3-3. Game 7 was a defensive battle with Yanni Gourde’s shorthanded goal in the first period enough for the Lightning to get a 1-0 victory and advance to their second straight Stanley Cup final.
Vegas was heavily favored over Montreal, which finished below .500 during the regular season. But the Canadiens had found their groove in the playoffs and never gave the Golden Knights room to breathe. With the series tied 2-2, Vegas had a chance to take control on home ice, but Montreal dominated Game 5 and won 4-1. Game 6 would go to overtime and it was there that Arturri Lehkonen scored the game-winner to send the Canadiens to their 35th Cup Final. Montreal was also presented with the Clarence Campbell Trophy for winning the “Western Conference”, becoming one of the few teams to have trophies from both conferences in their trophy case.