(SportsNetwork.com) – The Montreal Canadiens’ 2015 playoff run began smoothly
before hitting some road bumps.
The Habs jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the opening round against Ottawa before
allowing the Senators back in the series. Ottawa was able to push the set to
six games, becoming only the third team to trail 3-0 to the Canadiens and
force a Game 6.
Outside of a 5-1 win by the Senators in Game 5, the series was evenly played.
That includes the first three contests which were each decided by one goal and
featured overtime victories by the Canadiens in both Games 2 and 3.
Montreal’s Round 1 performance offered few surprises. The Atlantic Division
champions were tough to score against, but also failed to generate much
offense of their own. They averaged 2.0 goals per game on both offense and
defense against the Sens.
The Habs had the stingiest defense in the league during the regular season
with 2.24 goals allowed per game, but the club ranked 20th in offense (2.61
Carey Price is the biggest reason Montreal can be successful despite its low-
scoring offense. The Hart and Vezina Trophy finalist posted a 1.94 goals
against average and .939 save percentage in the opening round. Price also
recorded a shutout in Game 6 to close out the Senators.
Most importantly, Price escaped the first round without an injury. The club’s
No. 1 backstop was hurt in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals last
spring, and although Dustin Tokarski played well in a pinch, he couldn’t save
the Habs from falling to the New York Rangers. Price is so integral to
Montreal’s success, it seems unlikely the club could get far if he was injured
Montreal’s leading point producer in the opening round was defenseman P.K.
Subban. The Norris Trophy finalist picked up four points on one goal and three
Subban led the Habs blueline with 25 minutes, 8 seconds of ice time on average
in the opening round, just a shade ahead of skating partner Andrei Markov
(25:03). Markov had just one assist in six games during the opening round.
Alexei Emelin and Jeff Petry will likely make up the second pairing with Tom
Gilbert and either Nathan Beaulieu or Greg Pateryn rounding out the defensive
rotation. Pateryn was inserted into the lineup and played the final three
games of the opening-round series when Beaulieu was knocked out of Game 3 with
an upper-body injury. Beaulieu is expected to miss at least the first four
games of Round 2.
Max Pacioretty is the top forward for Montreal. He missed the opening game
against the Sens due to injury, but was in the lineup for the last five
contests and contributed two goals to the series win. Pacioretty led the Habs
with 37 goals, 67 points and a plus-38 rating during the regular season.
Dale Weise, a third-line winger, tied Pacioretty for the team lead in the
opening round with two goals.
Top-line centerman Tomas Plekanec tied for the club lead among forwards with
three points (1G, 2A). Fourth-liners Brian Flynn and Torrey Mitchell each
added a goal and two assists against Ottawa.
Weise and Alex Galchenyuk each potted an OT winner for the Habs in Round 1,
but the latter player only finished with a goal and an assist against the
Senators. Galchenyuk’s fellow second-liner, Brendan Gallagher, recorded a
game-winner in the series finale, but also ended the series with just one goal
and one helper.
Montreal needs to do a much better job in the special teams department in the
second round. The Canadiens scored once on 20 chances with the man advantage
against the Senators. The club struggled on the power play during the regular
season, finishing 23rd in the league rankings.
The Canadiens also allowed Ottawa to pot five power-play goals on 20 chances.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 50-24-8 (2nd place, Atlantic)
2015 PLAYOFFS: Defeated Detroit 4-3 in conference quarterfinals
An opening-round sweep at the hands of the Canadiens has haunted the Tampa Bay
Lightning for a full calendar year, but now they’ll finally get a chance to
properly avenge that loss.
Although they finished second to Montreal in the Atlantic standings, the
Lightning obliterated the Habs in the 2014-15 season series, taking all five
meetings while outscoring the Canadiens by a combined 21-8 margin. Of course,
that regular season dominance will mean very little if Tampa can’t wash away
the taste of last spring’s playoff loss with a win in this rematch.
The Lightning are coming off a difficult seven-game battle against the Detroit
Red Wings and head coach Jon Cooper’s team will only get one day of rest in
between Game 7 of the first round and the opener of the conference semifinals.
Montreal, meanwhile, will have had four full days of rest before hosting Game
1 on Friday.
But at this time of the year, hockey teams are always looking for the
positives and the Bolts are hoping the quick turnaround will keep them sharp
while the longer layoff will allow rust to creep into the Montreal locker
Tampa is counting on Ben Bishop to make a big difference in this rematch. The
club’s No. 1 goaltender missed the entire playoff series against the Habs last
spring, but the lanky netminder is healthy this time around.
Bishop made his postseason debut in the opening round against Detroit and
after a shaky start wound up posting a solid 1.87 GAA and .922 save percentage
for the series. His best performance was his most recent one, as he turned in
a 31-save shutout to carry the Bolts to a 2-0 win in the decisive Game 7
victory over the visiting Red Wings.
While Bishop enters the second round on a high note, the Lightning offense is
struggling coming into the conference semifinals. Outside of second-line
centerman Tyler Johnson, who almost single-handedly carried the scoring load
against Detroit, the forwards have a lot to prove against Montreal.
Johnson tied a franchise record for most goals in a single playoff series,
hitting the net six times. Ruslan Fedotenko also had six goals for Tampa
against Philadelphia in the 2004 Eastern Conference finals during the club’s
run to its only Stanley Cup title.
Alex Killorn was the only Tampa player besides Johnson to score more than one
goal against Detroit. Killorn notched two goals and two assists.
While the speedy Johnson turned it up a notch in the opening round, captain
and star centerman Steven Stamkos failed to score a single goal in the seven-
game series. Stamkos was second in the NHL with 43 goals during the regular
season, but has now gone 10 straight postseason games without a marker. The
last time he scored in the playoffs was when he tallied twice in Game 1 of
last season’s series against Montreal.
Stamkos did post three assists in the conference quarters, but Tampa is
counting on him to be a consistent goal-scorer against the Canadiens.
Tampa led the NHL with 3.16 goals per game during the regular season, but saw
that number dip to 2.43 GPG in the playoff matchup against the Red Wings.
When things are going right, Tampa boasts a deep forward group that featured
four players score at least 24 goals during the regular season. After Stamkos,
Nikita Kucherov tied Johnson for second on the team with 29 markers and
Ryan Callahan recorded 24 goals.
Like Stamkos, Kucherov and Callahan went without a goal in Round 1, but added
four and three assists, respectively.
The Lightning had 11 players reach double digits in goals during the regular
season and they hope to get back to being an extremely tough team to match up
against in this battle against Montreal.
One way Tampa can get back to being an offensively dominant team is by doing a
better job on the power play. The Bolts clicked at 18.8 percent with the man
advantage during the regular season, but only scored twice on 30 chances (6.7
percent) in the opening round against Detroit. The Lightning have an
opportunity to vastly improve those numbers against Montreal’s struggling PK
Tampa did receive one goal from five different defensemen in the series with
Detroit. The two biggest scores from blueliners came in Game 7, as Braydon
Coburn broke a scoreless tie early in the third period and Anton Stralman
later sealed the all-important victory with an empty-netter.
Stralman usually forms Tampa’s top pairing along with fellow Swede Victor
Hedman, who recorded three assists and a plus-six rating in the opening round.
Cooper opted to dress seven defensemen in Games 4, 6 and 7 against the Red
Wings and all three ended in victories for Tampa.
“I think it gives you a different look, gives you different options,” said
Cooper. “I like having the extra defenseman there. I could go down the list of
reasons why. It’s not just one. It’s a bevy of things.”
Despite finishing seventh among Tampa defenseman in ice time during the
opening round, Nikita Nesterov posted a goal and two assists. He could
continue to be used as the extra blueliner in this series, while Coburn and
Garrison eat up minutes as the second pairing. Matt Carle and Andrej Sustr
will likely see the most time as the third duo.
Sometimes it can be a mistake to read too much from a regular-season series
when predicting a playoff matchup, but it’s difficult to ignore what Tampa was
able to do against the Canadiens in 2014-15.
Although Price has an excellent chance to be the first goalie to win the Hart
Trophy since Montreal’s Jose Theodore in 2001-02, it certainly won’t be due to
his performances against Tampa.
Price was 0-4-1 with a 3.47 GAA and .906 save percentage in the season series.
Bishop, on the other hand, was a perfect 5-0 with a 1.59 GAA and .933 save
percentage versus the Habs.
Stamkos should be eager to put his rough series against Detroit behind him and
this matchup against Montreal could offer the perfect opportunity to do so. He
scored five goals and added two assists in the season series and was just one
of several Tampa players to light it up versus the Habs in 2014-15.
Hedman had two goals and four assists, tying forward Vladislav Namestnikov,
who also had six points against the Canadiens with three goals and three
helpers. Kucherov and Ondrej Palat also had five points apiece in the season
Plekanec, meanwhile, led Montreal with three points (1G, 2A) against Tampa
while Pacioretty added two goals and Subban chipped in a goal and an assist.
This series marks the third all-time playoff meeting between Montreal and
Tampa and both previous encounters ended in sweeps. The Bolts breezed past the
Canadiens in the conference semifinals in 2004 before the clubs met for a
second time last spring.
Tampa was supposed to make quick work of Detroit, but wound up having to gut
out a closely contested series. The individual battles of this second-round
matchup could be tight, but the Lightning’s superior scoring depth proved to
be a nuisance for Montreal in the regular season and the Habs will have
problems containing the Bolts in this playoff rematch.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Lightning in 6