Just two days removed from playing spoiler against the Red Wings, the Montreal Canadiens will roll into Tampa where they will once again hope to pull off an upset - this time against the Atlantic Division leading Lightning.
While the Lightning are in no real danger of losing a playoff spot, they are in danger of losing their first seed in the division. With their state rival Florida Panthers only in second on a tie-breaker, Steven Stamkos and company have lots of meaningful hockey to play down the stretch as they attempt to secure home-ice advantage through at least the first two rounds.
Looking for revenge for the elimination served to them at the hands of the Lightning in the 2015 playoffs, the Habs will hope to build some momentum and perhaps send a message in tonight's game, as these two teams will meet once more before the end of the regular season.
It's the first of a short, two-game road trip through Florida, and with few games remaining, it looks like the Canadiens might have a role to play in deciding the winner of the Atlantic Division after all - just not in the way we would have hoped.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:30 PM EDT
In the Canadiens region (French): RDS
In the Canadiens region (English): Sportsnet East
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|51.2||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||52.8|
|0.95||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.21|
Know Your Enemy
It's been a season spent in the spotlight once again for Lightning captain Stamkos, though this year for reasons other than his play. With much publicity surrounding his potential departure from the only NHL club he has ever known this summer, Stamkos has maintained that he is focusing on hockey.
It would appear that he has indeed been doing just that as the Canadian sniper sits fourth in the league in goals scored with 36. Stamkos is on pace to finish his second season in a row at under a point per game, but with point totals down across the board for top scorers a 64+ point season is nothing to scoff at.
The Lightning have more offensive weapons at their disposal than just Stamkos, however. Nikita Kucherov is coming off a break-out season and is poised to at least match - if not surpass - his 65 point total from 2014-15 in then next few games. Ondrej Palat, meanwhile, has been red-hot lately with eight points in his last four games, making him a threat that the Canadiens will need to be wary of if they hope to come away with a win.
It comes as no surprise that Swedish behemoth Victor Hedman leads the Lightning defensively, with only thirteen blue-liners in the NHL putting up more than Hedman's 44 points this year. Hedman has been the best possession player on an impressive possession team, boasting a CF% Rel of 7.18, indicating that Hedman is an indispensable piece of the Lightning line-up. Anton Stralman has impressed as well, with 34 points of his own and slotting second in the Tampa Bay relative corsi leader-board.
Ben Bishop, of course, has kept things steady in the Lightning crease all season long with another terrific showing this year, recording a SV% of .928, making him a contender for the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender. Andrei Vasilevskiy, meanwhile, has been consistently good this season playing as Bishop's back-up, showing that he has all the tools to soon become a full-time NHL starting netminder.
Last Time Out
The Canadiens and Lightning have met just twice up until now, with the Lightning failing to pick up a victory against the Habs thus far. The teams most recently did battle back in February, when Montreal succeeded in extending a winning streak - something that has been difficult for this team to come by since December.
Brendan Gallagher kicked things off just six minutes into the first period after forcing a turnover and bursting down the ice alongside Tomas Plekanec. Gallagher would hold onto the puck after receiving it from Plekanec in the neutral zone, opting to shoot and beating Bishop clean to make it 1-0.
The Lightning would not go away easily, however, as Valtteri Filppula beat Ben Scrivens through traffic to tie things up 40 seconds into the second frame. The duo of Plekanec and Gallagher had the answer for that, though, with Gallagher tipping a shot toward Plekanec, who made no mistake depositing it in the net to restore the Habs one-goal lead. Devante Smith-Pelly added a marker with mere seconds to go in the period to extend the lead to two heading into the third.
It was Plekanec going to work again in the final period of play, receiving a drop pass from Alex Galchenyuk and waiting Bishop out to net the Canadiens' 4th goal of the evening. Hedman would get one back for the Lightning but it would be too little too late as the Habs took the game 4-2.