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Canadiens vs Lightning: Game preview, start time, & TV schedule

With first place on the line, can the Habs find a way to hold off the Lightning?

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

With a win over the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday, the Montreal Canadiens became the first Eastern Conference team to reach 90 points in 2014-15. Sitting at 88, the Tampa Bay Lightning have their eyes on becoming the second.

Though Michel Therrien may not know it, the Lightning are Montreal's best competition in the Atlantic division. An offensive juggernaut, Steve Yzerman's crew is so deep and balanced that the General Manager felt confident enough to part with a promising young player heading into the playoffs.

Even more intriguing is the fact that the deadline was made with another divisional adversary, the Boston Bruins. The Bruins seem to have bought relatively low on Brett Connolly's potential, as the forward was the 6th overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft. With only 18 NHL goals to his credit, however, and this year's crop apparently the product of unsustainably lucky shooting, Connolly still has a long path to justifying the two 2nd round picks that Peter Chiarelli invested in him.

The Lightning's big addition was Braydon Coburn, most recently the number one defenceman of the Philadelphia Flyers. Coburn enjoyed a string of productive seasons since being acquired from the Atlanta Thrashers in a previous deadline deal, but has not been so quite so strong since losing Kimmo Timonen as his partner. The Lightning paid a steep price for the blue-liner, and will have to hope that he benefits from being surrounded by a defensive corps much deeper than the one in the city of Brotherly Love.

How to Watch

Start time: 7:30 PM ET
In the Canadiens region (French): RDS
In the Canadiens region (English): Sportsnet East
In the Lightning region: SUN
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistic Lightning
42-18-6 Record 41-20-6
5-3-2 L10 Record 7-3-0
48.9 Score-Adjusted Fenwick % 53.9
177 Goals For 222
146
Goals Against 177
1.22 5v5 Goal Ratio 1.29
16.4 PP% 18.4
84.8 PK% 83.1

Know Your Enemy

Like most trades, these deals have yet to bear out a clear on-ice outcome for the Lightning. Radko Gudas, the roster player headed to Philly in the Coburn deal, was a effective only when given a generous deployment. His reputation as a tough, hard-hitting player maintained his place in the lineup, but he clearly did not fit into Tampa's fast, aggressive style.

Then again, Coburn hasn't quite assimilated yet, either. From Raw Charge:

...[Jason] Garrison, who has steadily been a plus possession player with the likes of Andrej Sustr, Radko Gudas, and Nikita Nesterov but has routinely been hemmed in when on-ice with Coburn.

Braydon Coburn has yet to achieve a Corsi For% north of 50% in three games with the Bolts, coming in at 46% vs. Buffalo, 40% vs. Toronto, and an appalling 26% in a 5-4 comeback win over Dallas.

Even though it's taking time for him to adjust, Coburn should be considered a nice upgrade on Gudas, making his acquisition by the Lightning a case of the rich getting richer, at least in the short-term. When Matt Carle returns, the Lightning will have a very effective group of six defenders, not unlike the one that Montreal is now capable of icing. Thankfully, the Habs won't have to face the possibility just yet, as Carle continues to rehabilitate a hip injury. The Lightning's last big acquisition from the Flyers will likely watch Mark Barberio skate in his place.

As for the loss of former prospect Connolly, the Lightning have gone right back to their deep system to find his replacement. Vladislav Namestnikov, another first round pick of recent years, was recalled from the AHL last week, and finds himself on the third line with Valtteri Filppula and Cedric Paquette. Since being united, the trio has been tasked with handling defensive zone starts, allowing more o-zone time for the Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson units. This strategy was effective against Dallas, as the line did a great job holding their own against Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Two nights earlier, however, the line was exposed by the dregs of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In any case, whether it's sophomores Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Nikita Kucherov burning up the scoring charts, or Namestnikov and Paquette riding shotgun with their reliable Finnish centreman, Jon Cooper is clearly willing to let his young players take on a challenge. How the Habs are able to handle that young middle six will likely be a significant factor in the outcome of tonight's game.

Last Time Out

When the Habs last met the Lightning, they were hoping for an outcome reminiscent of last spring's one-sided playoff series. Instead, they got another rendition of their embarrassing early season loss.

The Lightning followed up on their 7-1 win in October with a 4-2 win in January, exposing a series of undisciplined penalties and defensive breakdowns to put those four goals past Carey Price. The Habs had an especially difficult time containing Stamkos, as his team out-attempted Montreal 28-7 and outscored them 2-0 when he was on the ice. Similarly dominant, though on a smaller scale, was Jonathan Drouin, who earned an on-ice shot attempt ratio of 16-4, and set-up a J.T. Brown goal in the second period.

Ironically, Connolly was a factor in the game as well, as he used his team-low 11:27 of ice to come out ahead on possession, earn a goal, and frustrate P.K. Subban into a retaliatory penalty in defence of Andrei Markov. Namestnikov has a high ceiling, but for tonight's game at least, Connolly's absence looks like a small victory for Montreal.

Ultimately, as many games do, this game is likely to come down to the play of Price. His two games against Tampa Bay have been two of his worst performances of the year, and in a season where Price has been nothing short of superb, it's unlikely that he'll let that stand for a third consecutive contest.

Price has stood tall when it matters all season. With first place on the line, look for him to do the same tonight.