The Tampa Bay Lightning overpowered the Montreal Canadiens to launch their bid for back-to-back Stanley Cup titles with an emphatic 5-1 victory on Monday.
The 2020 champions dominated the underdog Canadiens with a clinical display at Tampa's Amalie Arena to go 1-0 up in the best-of-seven series.
Erik Cernak put Tampa ahead in the first period before Yanni Gourde doubled the home side's lead in the second.
Ben Chiarot pulled a goal back for Montreal near the end of the second period to give the visitors hope.
But strikes from Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos in the third period sealed a deserved victory for Tampa Bay.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper said the team's aggressive offense in the third period had been crucial.
"Any time you can get the lead you want to extend it, then when you can do that you want to protect it," he said.
"In a 2-1 game -- when you're going into the period, whoever's getting the next one it is probably going to be a pivotal part in the game. It was fortunate that we got it."
Canadiens defenseman Jeff Petry meanwhile called on Montreal to remember their battling victories on the road in the series win over the Vegas Knights.
"It's one game of a seven-game series, so we have to use what we did in Vegas, that experience, that mindset, to rebound," he said. "We're going to watch some clips on what we can do better.
"I think everybody knows that our effort is there, but we can all bring a little bit more. That's what we did in Vegas, and that's what we're looking to do for game two."
Montreal are bidding to become the first team from Canada to lift the Stanley Cup for 28 years after a protracted National Hockey League championship drought for the hockey powerhouse.
The Canadiens' preparations for the final had been disrupted by Covid-19, which deprived the upstart title hopefuls of right wing Joel Armia and coach Dominique Ducharme on Monday.
Armia, who has eight points in 17 games including five goals during the playoffs, did not travel to Florida for Monday's clash.
Montreal have been the surprise package of the postseason after starting the playoffs as 500-1 rank outsiders.
However the Canadiens polished off a series of title contenders en route to the final, dispatching Toronto in the first round, Winnipeg in the second and Vegas in the semi-finals.