2015 NHL playoffs: Canadiens vs. Lightning second round preview
Regular season recaps
Oct. 13: Lightning 7, Canadiens 1
Jan. 6: Lightning 4, Canadiens 2
Mar. 10: Lightning 1, Canadiens 0
Mar 16: Lightning 4, Canadiens 2
Mar. 30: Lightning 5, Canadiens 3
Keys to a Canadiens victory
The Habs’ chances begin and end with Carey Price. The Vezina Trophy favorite followed his MVP-worthy season by keeping the Senators at bay in the first round while Montreal’s offense sputtered. His 1.94 goals-against average and .939 save percentage rank among the best in the first round of the playoffs, and his presence gives the team in front of him a chance to win every night.
Once you look beyond Price’s brilliance, a number of holes emerge in this team. The Canadiens were able to escape the first round with an even goal differential, averaging just two per game—the lowest of any advancing team. The biggest culprit is the power play, which tied for the fourth-highest postseason total with 20 opportunities but has only capitalized once. Defenseman P.K. Subban and forwards Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec combined for 22 tallies with the man-advantage during the regular season, but have been stifled in the playoffs.
Possibly the biggest problem is the penalty kill, which has allowed five goals on 20 chances. A functioning offense can make up for an anemic power play, but a struggling PK can constantly put a team behind the proverbial eight ball. The easiest answer here is to stay out of the penalty box, though that’s only a partial solution.
If Montreal can squeeze a little more offense from its big-name sources, it could find itself on the way to the Eastern Conference Finals thanks mostly, of course, to Carey Price.
Keys to a Lightning victory
If Montreal’s offense is struggling, Tampa Bay’s is in dire straits. The Lightning have seen their league-leading 3.16 goals per game average from the regular season plunge to just 2.43 per game. Tyler Johnson has shown flashes of brilliance after being thrust into the lead role on offense while sniper Steven Stamkos searches for a way to put a puck in the back of the net. Stamkos, who finished the season with 43 goals–13 on the power play–has yet to produce one through his first seven postseason games. As a result, the Bolts have converted just 6.7% of their man advantages, while Stamkos’s frustration has shown with 14 PIM in the first round after he racked up all of 49 in 82 games during the regular season.
The flailing offense is obviously not helping to soothe the nerves of goalie Ben Bishop. While the plus-sized goalie put together a 1.87 GAA and .916 SV against Detroit, he had to be bailed out by his defense after leaving piles of rebounds in the slot. Tampa Bay’s blue line corps, however, is among the NHL’s deepest, and it could pay off in the long run. Victor Hedman is averaging just 22:19 TOI and Anton Stralman is at 21:49, both totals a far cry from some of the minutes that other teams have had to force on their top defensemen
A well-rested defense could go a long way to making Montreal’s forwards miserable while giving Stamkos, Johnson and co. time to find their games. If the Bolts’ big guns can get off the schneid, Price will find himself fending off a lot more rubber as Tampa Bay’s chances of advancing increase.
Keeping a guy like Stamkos off the scoresheet is no easy task, and his chances will come. The rest of the Lightning will follow his lead and give the Canadiens all they can handle while instilling some missing confidence up and down the roster. Price is surely up to the task of keeping pucks out of his net, but he can’t put them behind Bishop, too. Tampa Bay will get its revenge for last season’s dismissal at the hands of the Habs, but it won’t be easy. Lightning in six.
|Game 1||Lightning 2, Canadiens 1 (2OT)||Recap||Box score||Highlights|
|Game 2||Lightning 6, Canadiens 2||Recap||Box score||Highlights|
|Game 3||Lightning 2, Canadiens 1||Recap||Box score||Highlights|
|Game 4||Canadiens 6, Lightning 2||Recap||Box score||Highlights|
|Game 5||Canadiens 2, Lightning 1||Recap||Box score||Highlights|
|Game 6||Tues. 5/12||TBD||TBD, CBC, TVA||at Tampa Bay|
|Game 7||Thurs. 5/14||TBD||TBD, CBC, TVA||at Montreal|