Sunday May 10th, 2015

P.A. Parenteau's wrister slid just under the crossbar with 4:07 remaining in the third period, providing the margin of victory in Montreal's 2-1 Game 5 win over Tampa Bay on Saturday night. The victory allowed the Habs to stave off elimination and set franchise history in the process. This marks the first time the team has fallen behind 3-0 in a series only to come back and win the next two games. They'll look to make it three in a row when the series shifts back to Florida on Monday night for Game 6.

Here are three quick thoughts on this nail-biter:

1. Canadiens find an answer to the horseshoe

On Friday, P.K. Subban tempted fate by saying that Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop had played well in the series but that he'd been “sitting on a horseshoe a little bit.”

That luck carried over into Game 5 as the Canadiens hit the post or crossbar behind Bishop four times to keep the score close. Subban rifled a shot off the crossbar in the second. Minutes later, Parenteau blew a glorious opportunity on the power play, rocketing a shot off the post with the gaping cage in front of him.

But the Habs finally got to Bishop by playing with the tenacity and creativity that was missing earlier in the series. Devante Smith-Pelly got Montreal on the board at 9:01 of the first with a rising shot off the rush that that beat Bishop high on the blocker side. Adding several thundering hits, this was exactly the type of game that GM Marc Bergevin was looking for when he acquired the big winger from the Ducks ahead of the deadline.

Fittingly, it was Subban who helped knock the horseshoe out of Bishop's pocket, making a nice keep at the blueline and then sliding away from the check of Alex Killorn before finding Parenteau in the slot for the game-winner.

Jeff Petry, who also hit a post in the second, had a magnificent outing of his own. The pending free agent was sharp at even strength and sparked the first power play with his reads and crisp puck movement. Though it went 0-3 on the night the struggling unit finally looked dangerous, getting plenty of zone time and generating several high-end chances. Petry has boosted his stock significantly in the playoffs. If Bergevin plans to re-sign him–and that should be his top off-season priority–he'd better to ready to offer more than $5.5 million a year.

2. Price can't be wrong

Carey Price didn't have his toughest outing, facing just 25 shots, but when the Canadiens needed their Hart and Vezina-nominated netminder, he came up huge.

NHL
Keep calm and Carey on: Supercool Price stands tall in scalding spotlight

His sprawling deflection to rob Valtteri Filppula on a third-period wrister was an instant classic. Filppula was off to Price's left when he took the feed from Steven Stamkos. The winger hesitated just long enough to allow Price to fling himself cross crease and get a piece of it with his catching glove. He downplayed it after the game, calling it “lucky,” but that easily ranks as one of the best saves of the playoffs. And coming as it did with the Canadiens clinging to a 1-0 lead? It was massive.

He did have his share of good fortune, though. Brenden Morrow had the puck fed to him at the top of the crease with Price caught leaning the other way in the second period. All the winger had to do with flip it up and over the outstretched pad, or simply deposit it in the 18-inch wide swath of empty net between the post and the keeper's skate. Instead, he slammed it right into Price's pillow.

Good on Price—he had the presence of mind to take away as much of the net as he could—but clearly there were enough horseshoes to go around for this one.

And you have to wonder: how big is he looking to Tampa's shooters right now? Not that they're getting much through to the net lately—just ask Stamkos, who finally broke a two-game, 50-shift shotless slump Saturday and scored his second of the postseason. When they do, Price has to look as big as a tank between the pipes.

3. What now for the Bolts?

Is it too soon to bring up the 2014 San Jose Sharks? Maybe ... but with collars tightening in Tampa, those comparisons will be in play soon.

NHL
Max Pacioretty, Canadiens stay alive with blowout of Lightning in Game 4

The Bolts had this series on lockdown despite a couple of middling efforts, but opened the door with their worst performance of the playoffs in Game 4. This one wasn't as bad. They came out hard in the first, delivering 20 hits and swapping chances with the Canadiens, but never really took the game over. Rather than showing that killer instinct, they allowed a desperate Montreal squad to be the aggressor.

So, what changes in Game 6?

It might help if coach Jon Cooper starts riding his horses a little harder. Four Tampa forwards got more ice time in this one than Stamkos' 17:07. Part of that is that he doesn't play the penalty kill, part is that Tyler Johnson's line has been his most effective in this series and deserves every minute he can give them. But Stamkos is a special player, and for a team that's struggling to score goals—just five now in the past three games—double-shifting the league's second-leading sniper makes sense.

The same is true of Victor Hedman, who played 22:20 Saturday, nearly a minute below his playoff average. Again, the lack of power play time cut into his total but that doesn't explain why he ranks 28th among defensemen in these playoffs. He's been their most impactful blueliner, especially in the offensive zone. Hedman is the one Tampa defenseman who can be counted on to drive possession. He needs to be out there 25-26 minutes in Game 6.

There'll be griping about the officiating after the Bolts failed to get a single power play opportunity, but that's the symptom, not the problem. Tampa's forwards simply didn't do enough to draw penalties. Their team speed hasn't been a factor the past two games and they haven't shown the will to control the middle of the ice. That's taken the desperation out of Montreal's defensive response and allowed it to rely on strong positioning to eliminate scoring chances.

Tampa's power play can make a difference, but it only becomes a factor in Game 6 with a more aggressive effort at five-on-five.

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