As it became clear the Montreal Canadiens were going to win their first round playoff series, Steven Stamkos was asked about his approach to the remaining games. Stamkos responded that his team had adopted the motto, "just win one."
The Lightning's goal was never accomplished, however, as the Habs ran away with the series in four straight games. The Lightning, plagued by injuries, lack of depth, and some horrendous goaltending, never mounted a serious challenge. By the time Kristers Gudlevskis was inserted mid-way through game 4, it was too little, too late.
The Canadiens first week of the season was characterized by the opposite phenomenon, as Montreal came back in all three of their victories. They've been consistent slow starters, getting drilled in 3 of 3 first periods, but have hung around long enough to eventually take the two points. If the Habs can translate their excellent late game play to the first period tonight, and maybe take greater advantage when they're a man up, they should be in good position to take another game from one of their foremost divisional competitors.
Tale of the Tape
Know Your Enemy
The Tampa Bay Lightning of 2013-14 were a young, well-coached team, that rode a career year from Ben Bishop into the first round of the playoffs. But when Bishop went down, Jon Cooper learned the hard way that no amount of tactical mastery could entirely make up for the talent gap between these two teams. With that in mind, Steve Yzerman went to great lengths to close that gap.
First rounders Jonathan Drouin and Brett Connolly have graduated into the Bolts' top six, pushing last year's pleasant surprises, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, down to a much stronger third line. Brian Boyle was brought in the from the Rangers, trading out last year's AHL-calibre fourth line talent and instead implementing a big, strong, and capable centre. On defense, prized free agent Anton Stralman chose Tampa as his new home, and Jason Garrison was acquired in a trade. With Victor Hedman anchoring the D corps, and Radko Gudas pushed down to the 6th slot (far away from the horrible, unmentionable things that the Canadiens' forward group did him over those four games last spring), the Lightning have a very respectable defensive group.
So far, the new roster results have been mixed. The Lightning laid a possession beat-down on the Panthers, but had to rely on a couple of powerplay goals to push the game to overtime, where another powerplay marker was the game winner. They got their first even strength goal for of the season against the Sens, but mostly had to rely on Ben Bishop to prevent the game from getting out of hand. The Sens took the contest in the shootout, leaving the Lightning with their current 1-0-1 record.
In an Eastern Conference that has about as much depth as last year's TBL squad, the Lightning should be considered highly probable to earn a playoff spot. Tonight's game should be our first chance to catch a glimpse of whether they may be prepared to do more than than.
Last Time Out
The last Canadiens-Lightning game was the Habs fourth consecutive victory over Tampa Bay; a win that propelled the Canadiens to the second round of the playoffs. Montreal did what they had done all series, pushing the play to the Lightning and making the most of their scoring chances. The Bolts made it interesting, but the game and series were ultimately salted away on a Max Pacioretty powerplay goal in the third period's final minute. A microcosm of the series as a whole, the Habs took control, the Lightning pushed back, but ultimately, it wasn't enough.
Steven Stamkos said he wanted to win just one. Tonight, he gets another chance.