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

Are the Canadiens on the upswing, or are their consecutive wins just a short break from a long fall?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into their game against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday afternoon, the Canadiens needed to make a choice: win, or accept their fate. With a victory that day, and another on Super Bowl Sunday, the Habs made as strong a statement as they are capable of making these days.

Tonight, things get a little tougher. The Tampa Bay Lightning struggled through the early part of the season, but having already had their "we should probably make the playoffs" epiphany, they are now red-hot and a far stronger squad than the many that Montreal has failed to handle of late.

But if two weekend wins meaning anything, it must be that the Canadiens feel they have some fight left in them. With 28 games to go, and near-perfection required if the Habs are to qualify themselves for late April hockey, the Tricolore must find a way to persevere again this evening.

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 Sports
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistic Lightning
26-24-4 Record 29-18-4
3-6-1 L10 Record 9-1-0
53.1 Score-Adjusted Corsi % 52.4
147 Goals For 139
144 Goals Against 121
0.97 5v5 Goal Ratio 1.14
18.0 PP% 19.3
83.6 PK% 81.7

*All stats prior to Monday night's games.

Know Your Enemy

When the Habs last met, Tampa, they were dealing with a team that still seemed to be finding themselves. With nine wins in their last 10 games going into Monday night's contest with the Senators, it seems that any crises of identity are now resolved.

The Lightning are still getting the same great goaltending they were getting from Ben Bishop previously, but with some injury problems in the past, lineup decisions made, and critical players heating up, the Lightning are looking like a juggernaut.

Losing Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson to injury did plenty to bring down the earlier efforts of Jon Cooper's squad, but with both players now contributing like they did last year, the complexion of Tampa's offence has changed. Split across the top-nine, they give the Lightning three lines each capable of scoring often. Combined with a very capable fourth line -especially on possession - composed of Brian Boyle, Cedric Paquette, and Erik Condra, Tampa has forward depth to be envious of.

Their defence corps has rounded into form as well, taking shape as Matt Carle's role has diminished. In his place is Nikita Nesterov, who works with Braydon Coburn to provide a solid third pair at even strength.

With depth down the lineup, some legitimate star power in Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Bishop, and even a a little luck (like 16 wins in one-goal games this year, for example), the Lightning look primed for another playoff run.

As has been their task for the last two seasons, the Canadiens are charged with standing in their way.

Last Time Out

The Canadiens' won their first clash with the Lightning this season, and the way that December game played out is something of a roadmap for tonight.

The Bolts carried the run of play for the most part, but the Habs used a strong start and some pluck to stick around. P.K. Subban kickstarted the offence, carrying the puck in and feeding Tomas Plekanec for a slick tip-in goal. Tampa would equalize on the powerplay, as their cycle game culminated in a net-front puck poked home by Stamkos.

Next, Alex Galchenyuk worked some magic, stick-handling around three Lightning defenders with tremendous confidence to keep the play alive in the offensive zone, before dropping the puck to Jeff Petry. Petry went laterally to Markov, and a moment later, the puck was back on the stick of the Canadiens' dynamic young forward, who rifled it past Bishop.

The Habs would hold that lead for the first 14 minutes of the third period, and then it looked like it would all crash down. Jason Garrison scored on a wrap-around, and seconds later, Ryan Callahan's wrister put Tampa up 3-2. But spectacular goaltending and some timely skill-plays had got them that far, and the Canadiens weren't about to let go.

Max Pacioretty kept the puck in at the offensive blue-line, and threw it behind the net to David Desharnais. Desharnais popped it out front to Dale Weise, whose one-timer crossed the goal line by a hair's breadth.

That tying goal was enough to sustain the Canadiens until Pacioretty again found the puck on his stick at the Tampa blue line, this time while advancing on Bishop for the shootout winner.

With player usage in a sub-optimal state, and Carey Price sidelined, the Tricolore don't have the strength to hold down a legitimate contender like Tampa Bay on will alone. But if their best weapons can contribute like they did last time, and Ben Scrivens can replicate his play from this weekend, it might be just enough for the Habs to stay on the path to contender status themselves.