After successful regular seasons from both the Canadiens and Lightning, both clubs look to renew a divisional rivalry that began during last year’s playoffs when the Habs swept the Lightning in 4 games. The Lightning retaliated with some revenge, sweeping the Canadiens 5-0 in the 2014-2015 regular season. Much like the Lightning’s success versus the Canadiens in the regular season, it will be interesting to see how both teams game plans look heading into this playoff series.
The Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien had some thoughts about the upcoming series with the Lightning. “We’re probably the only team in the playoffs with home ice advantage that’s the underdog.” It’s not surprising that Therrien would have this to say during his media availability. When a coach determines his team as the “underdogs”, it often takes the pressure off of his team and helps add pressure towards the opposition. Although the Canadiens had success versus Tampa Bay in the playoffs last season, the Lightning’s regular season dominance over the Canadiens during the past two seasons is enough to make them favorites in this series.
The Lightning led the NHL with 262 goals during the regular season and boast the NHL’s top offense. If Montreal has any hope of winning this series, they will need to play a tight defensive game in which they thrive in. While the Lightning boasted the NHL’s top offense, the Canadiens tied the Blackhawks allowing the least goals in the league with 189.
Steven Stamkos, one of the most feared goal scorers in hockey went scoreless in the Lightning’s 7 game first round series versus the Red Wings. Stamkos has struggled in the playoffs , with just 8 goals in 29 career playoff games. One of the main reasons that Stamkos hasn’t been relied upon as much this season is because of a trio of young stars. The Lightning trio, known as the “triplets”, consists of Tyler Johnson, who went undrafted, Ondřej Palát, who was selected in the 7th round in 2011, and Nikita Kucherov, who was selected in the 2nd round in 2011. The triplets have taken some of the heat off of Stamkos’ unit and have allowed for him to play in more of a secondary role this season. Yes, you read that correctly, one of the best goal scorers on the planet is playing in a secondary scoring role. In order to shutdown the top two scoring lines for Tampa Bay, Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov will have to look a lot better than he did in round 1. Markov was often caught out of position or pinching at inopportune times, which led to multiple Senators odd man rushes. If the Canadiens want to limit the Lightning’s scoring chances, Markov, Subban and Petry will all have to play large roles in shutting down the NHL’s top offense.
It goes without saying that Carey Price will most likely be the biggest factor in the series for the Montreal Canadiens. If he plays at the level he is capable of, the Canadiens will be successful and have a good shot at winning this series. If we don’t see the elite Price, the Canadiens will likely be in trouble and headed to the golf course. The Canadiens Hart trophy nominee has the ability to steal a series and will need to be at the top of his game with the leagues most potent offense coming to town. At the other end of the rink, Ben Bishop gets the call and will have to be much better than Anders Lindback was in the playoffs versus the Canadiens in 2014.
Much like watching Erik Karlsson versus the Canadiens in round 1, the Lightning’s Victor Hedman will play a similar role as Tampa Bay’s number 1 defenseman. Hedmans puck handling and ability to drive possession to go along with his long stick and big frame are what makes him such an elite defenseman. It will be an interesting match up with Hedman and Subban going head to head in the spotlight.
Look for the Lightning to be favored heading into the series. With a highly potent offense and a back end loaded with puck moving defenseman, the Lightning will be a tough out for the Canadiens. Carey Price will definitely have something to say about this and if he is at the top of his game, the Canadiens may be able to steal this series.
Prediction: Lightning in 6.