Entering their series against the Tampa Bay Lighting, the Canadiens appeared to have two paths leading toward victory in Game 1.
One path seemed much more likely: the Canadiens would climb onto the back of Carey Price, and let him lead them to a win. The Bolts would outshoot the Canadiens, but between Price's staunch work in net, some opportunism on special teams, and maybe a high-skill play from the Habs extremely talented top line, Montreal might just find a way to stick around.
Instead, they chose the alternate route. The Canadiens' skaters outclassed the Lightning from the beginning, pushing the play toward Anders Lindback and constantly keeping pucks on a goaltender who appeared to be, at the very least, uncomfortable. Only Lars Eller and Brian Gionta, who both contributed gorgeous goals on transition plays, were in the red on possession. The Canadiens iced a lineup perfectly matched to the skill and style of their opponent, and were rewarded with the type of full team effort we just don't see often enough.
Tonight, the Canadiens are going to face an even greater challenge. They're going to have to find a way to replicate their effort of Wednesday night, but this time, while facing an opponent who's readying a counterpunch.
First and foremost, the Habs must be prepared to contain Steven Stamkos. Stamkos was an absolute monster in Game 1, and at least as long as Michel Therrien is making first change, the Lightning have a serious advantage. Stamkos started in the offensive zone only 20% of the time on Wednesday, receiving easily the toughest deployment on the team alongside linemate Tyler Johnson. Despite this, Stamkos was still Tampa's best possession forward, and put two pretty goals past Carey Price in the process. It'd be a little more fun to watch if it were Pacioretty making this play, but this goal is gorgeous, even when scored in an opponent's uniform.
Jon Cooper has a clear game-plan while he has last change, and that's to keep his star player away from the Canadiens best defenders. In the first period, Stamkos' minutes were depressed, as #91 was consistently put on the ice just as Tomas Plekanec, P.K. Subban, and Josh Gorges left it. Shift Chart gives us a nice visual of how Stamkos was deployed against the Habs' D in the first period of the first game:
While Plekanec was the unfortunate centre who got a front row seat to his linemates being turnstiled by one of the league's best forwards, it's interesting that both goals also came against the pair of Alexei Emelin and Andrei Markov. As the game evolved, and Tampa played was often playing from behind, Cooper became a little less selective and just played Stamkos all the time. Whether he continues this pattern, or goes back to trying to play chess with Michel Therrien, the Habs need to be prepared. Ensuring that one of the Plekanec line, or the Subban/Gorges defensive pair, is on the ice at all times would be a good start.
Montreal isn't likely to dominate territorially every night, but the Lightning aren't likely to see Price's bad side every night, either. Martin St. Louis is no longer available as a fall-back offensive threat, and the Lightning's first line is weakened by the absence of rookie Ondrej Palat. If the Habs hope to clear Canadian customs with a two-game series lead in tow, they're going to have show they can hold down Tampa's one-Captain wrecking crew.