Canadiens hoping to reverse struggles against Lightning
The Montreal Canadiens held off Tampa Bay by two points to win the Atlantic Division during the regular season, an impressive accomplishment given what a thorn in the side the Lightning had been.
Turns out Montreal hadn't seen the last of high-scoring Tampa Bay.
''We may be the only team with home-ice advantage that is the underdog,'' Montreal coach Michel Therrien said. ''We're up against an offensive power. It's a big challenge but, from experience, we know the playoffs is a different season.''
Therrien wasn't just posturing with those remarks. As well as the Canadiens played this season, they lost all five games against a Tampa Bay team that led the NHL in goals. Montreal goalie Carey Price, a Hart Trophy finalist, allowed 16 goals in those five losses. The Canadiens held the Lightning below four goals only once.
''Playoffs are a different animal all together,'' Tampa Bay defenseman Braydon Coburn said. ''We're coming in, and what you did in the regular season doesn't mean a whole lot right now. We're focused on Montreal. They've got a great team there. They've obviously got an excellent goaltender, and they play well in front of him.''
The series starts at Montreal on Friday night. Here are a few things to watch:
STRENGTH AGAINST STRENGTH: Struggles against Tampa Bay notwithstanding, Price had a 1.96 goals-against average during the regular season, and Ottawa managed only 12 goals against him in six games in the first round.
The Lightning, meanwhile, needed the full seven games to eliminate Detroit - Steven Stamkos was held without a goal, but Tampa Bay's Tyler Johnson scored six and is tied for the league lead this postseason.
PACIORETTY'S STATUS: Montreal relies a lot offensively on 37-goal scorer Max Pacioretty, who missed the final two games of the regular season and the playoff opener with a concussion. Pacioretty began looking like himself again in Game 6 against Ottawa.
''Everyone's talking how we play such good defense and they play such good offense, but we're trying to score and they're trying to play tight defense as well,'' Pacioretty said. ''Every game writes its own story.''
QUIET START: Pacioretty stood up for Stamkos, the Tampa Bay star who has taken some heat for his postseason so far.
''It's frustrating to hear people talk about (Stamkos) like that. I watched and he's doing everything right,'' Pacioretty said. ''He's just not scoring goals. That's when all the people come out, the experts, and say he's got to do this and that. But who knows how to score goals better than him? Not too many people in the world.''
THE OTHER GOALIE: Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop allowed a blooper of a goal in Game 4 against Detroit, knocking a seemingly routine save back off his own crossbar and into the net. But he played well enough to win the series and made 31 saves in a Game 7 shutout.
''He just had that calming presence in the net,'' Stamkos said. ''I know a lot of people were questioning him, this being his first playoffs, this being his first Game 7. Well, now it's not. Now he has a shutout in his first Game 7.''
TOP PAIRING: Defensemen P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov play big minutes for the Canadiens and have had a huge role in the team's success. Subban led Montreal with four points against Ottawa, but Markov struggled in that series. Against Tampa Bay this season, Subban had two points and was minus-4, while Markov had two and was minus-3.
Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman had six points against the Canadiens.