Going into the series the possession numbers were firmly on Tampa Bay's side. Montreal was expected to struggle when it came to controlling the puck, however that's why we play the games, because last night's game was a Montreal Canadiens possession clinic.
By every single measure available Montreal controlled the play, relying on their mobility, smart touches and quick passing. Credit to Michel Therrien for picking a smart and logical squad to face the Bolts.
Montreal put together one of their best efforts of the season, which included their second highest scoring chances per-minute played ratio since the Olympic break. The Habs also played well in their own zone, producing a higher than average successful defensive zone events, combined with almost 5% fewer turnovers than usual.
Several players came through with some of their best efforts of year, including the oft-maligned Lars Eller. His underlying analytics for the game weren't particularly great, meaning that both Bourque and Gionta also suffered from some weak advanced stats, but the eye test comes into full effect in this particular circumstance, since it's a little silly to start judging individual player analytics within such a small sample size. Eller was creative and controlled the puck in a plethora of situations, evoking memories of the Eller from the first 10 games of the season.
The hero of the night was Dale Weise, although it's worth mentioning that Daniel Brière was constantly a scoring threat, and Michael Bournival contributed with hard work along the boards. Of course, the fourth line faced mediocre competition, but that's par for the course when discussing line matching. If the fourth line can continue to contribute in such an effective fashion Montreal will be well on their way to eventually winning this series.
The only skater who clearly struggled for the Habs was the returning Brandon Prust. Odds are he's still half broken, but two, if not three of his giveaways led to goals for Tampa. We'll give him the benefit of the doubt, since he did just return from a long layoff, although if that's the type of performance he's able to give perhaps it would be best to shut him down until he's ready to contribute in a positive manner.
Much criticism was thrown Carey Price's way; to be perfectly honest it wasn't his best performance. He allowed four goals on 25 shots and often seemed to be out of position or overreacting to passes. Basically, it was an off night for Carey. However, you do have to mention that the vast majority of Tampa's scoring chances involved odd-man rushes and a certain Steven Stamkos. Montreal did not give up a ton of scoring chances, but when they did the scoring chances were of the prime rib variety. Speaking of beef, Price owes Gorges a steak dinner for that game-saving shot block last night.
What can we take from this game? Well, lots of positives. Montreal stopped just short of dominating the Bolts. Yes, Tampa out-hit the Habs, but that's to be expected when the puck was on a Habs stick for the majority of the night.
If Montreal can continue to provide us with such stellar performances this should be a relatively quick series, although we'd be best not to count our chickens before they hatch.
The best news is that Carey Price has a lot more to give, meaning that the man who saved Michel Therrien's job all year will in all likelihood improve as the series goes on.
Hopefully Therrien won't modify his roster too much on Friday, seeing as how they were clearly the superior team last night.
As a final thought, I think I may be starting to believe in the 'Brière clutchy clutchington McClutcherton" playoff narrative. It was only one game, but there's no denying he was playing like a man possessed last night in the offensive zone.
Tampa opens the scoring
Doesn't matter got Pleks:
Price should have had this one, but that Stamkos guy is known to score a few goals every year in the NHL:
Oh Captain my Captain!
Prust rust leads to a Tampa goal:
Vanek, Vidi, Vici:
Stamkos isn't going to miss these type of goals:
Credit goes to Weise for the goal, but let's not forget the great work by Briere on the forecheck.
Although the highlight of the night had to be Marc Bergevin's reaction to the game winning goal: