Canadiens vs Lightning 2014 playoffs game 4 preview

Andre Ringuette

With three impressive victories already on the ledger, can the Habs finish off their division rivals?

The Montreal Canadiens are on a serious roll.

In their three games against the Tampa Bay Lightning to-date, they've seriously outplayed the Bolts. Two of those games resulted in absolute possession dominance, while the third came out even. Of course, even though Montreal didn't push the play quite as much in Game 2 as in Games 1 and 3, they more than made up for it by piling up scoring chances, and by taking advantage of a near-shutout from their star keeper. Carey Price's timing was impeccable, helping out his teammates after they bailed him out in Game 1.

All of this comes without mentioning the fortuitous injury status of their opponent, or even Montreal's receipt of the favourable end of a controversial Game 3 call. The Habs have everything running in their favour, and tonight, they'll try to push that momentum for one more contest. If they can take the victory this evening, they'll find themselves preparing to face the winner of a Detroit-Boston series that will not conclude for at least four more days.

Behind the momentum, and the luck, and the timing, and everything that's rolled with Montreal for three games, there is also a team whose play Tampa currently has no answer for.

Jon Cooper rolled out a handful of lineup changes for Sunday night's Game 3, but none were able to significantly impact the game. Mark Barberio played to solid possession numbers on a third pair alongside Eric Brewer, which is more than one can say for his predecessor, Michael Kostka. Barberio also contributed six minutes of penalties, however, violently attacking Brian Gionta's face and coming within a hair's breadth of giving Rene Bourque a penalty shot.

Cooper's other moves were even less significant. B.J. Crombeen, he of 10 points and 11 fights this season, was manhandled in nine minutes of ice time in which he primarily faced Bouillon-Weaver. Tom Pyatt, inserted after Game 1, provided some speed on line with Cedric Paquette and J.T. Brown on Sunday, but was unable to generate anything offensive while condemned to difficult deployment. Cooper's deployments have played out as a microcosm of the series - they haven't been bad, per se, but they haven't accomplished a great deal, either.

Ultimately, Tampa's season is going to come down to the single factor that has defined this series to-date. In the absence of Ben Bishop, and with the Habs at their aggressive, puck-possessing best, the Lightning live and die by Steven Stamkos. Cooper changed his approach with his superstar, taking him the from super-tough role he played in Game 1 of an offence-oriented role in which he started 64.3% of his shifts in the offensive zone in Game 3. Despite the advantage of an easier deployment, and some flashes of typical Stamkosian brilliance, #91 has been more or less bottled up, failing to keep the puck from the Habs or put it in the net, either.

In a Bell Centre scrum yesterday, Stamkos commented that his team had adopted the motto of, "just win one." Tonight, the Habs will look to ensure that one doesn't come until October.

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