We've discussed the importance of controlled zone entries at length throughout the year, and game four provided us with a perfect example of how essential they are in terms of creating offensive opportunities.
Three of the four even-strength goals came from controlled entries, which allowed the Habs to press the Lightning into making defensive coverage errors.
Goal #1: Creativity on display
P.K. Subban makes a crisp pass to a streaking Max Pacioretty in the neutral zone. Seeing as he's covered, he has two realistic choices. Either dump the puck in deep, and attempt to retrieve it from a weak position, or softly push the puck behind Matt Carle, and attempt to keep control. Pacioretty chooses the latter.
Carle loses the footrace to Pacioretty, who retrieves the puck, baiting Andrej Sustr into swarming Pacioretty, leaving both defencemen deep in the corner. Brendan Gallagher enters the fray, and as per usual heads straight to the net.
Gallagher going to the net draws an aggressive backcheck from Tyler Johnson, which opens up the rest of the ice for a simple pass to Subban.
Subban displays a brilliant piece of creativity, by deking Nikita Kucherov and opening up both sides of the ice. He chooses Andrei Markov as the pass recipient, and the veteran makes no mistake.
Tampa Bay did themselves absolutely no favours on this play. Not only is there a conga line of Lightning players in front of Bishop, but the earlier over-commitment by the defensemen has led to major confusion in terms of defensive coverage. Bishop has little to no chance to anticipate which way Subban will send the pass, seeing as he has two perfect recipients available.
Goal #2: Perfect simplicity
There's nothing spectacular about this play, except maybe for its efficiency. Instead of flipping the puck out of the zone via the glass, Tom Gilbert finds a waiting Alex Galchenyuk on the boards, who quickly drops his coverage and identifies the easy outlet into the offensive zone.
Dale Weise does a perfect job as the middle man, taking advantage of the sloppy line change by Tampa Bay.
While it's true that Bishop handled the puck with the grace of a baby giraffe, the fact of the matter is that the puck made its way 150 feet up the ice within a matter of seconds.
Crisp passes were on display, which gave the Lightning no chance to break up the play.
Simple, fast, and efficient. A perfect hockey play.
Goal #3: A little patience
This starts off as a tight play, with P.A. Parenteau handling the puck, flanked by Lars Eller and Brandon Prust. It's a relatively safe situation for Tampa Bay.
Once again, instead of flipping the puck blindly up to Prust, the Habs demonstrate a perfect sense of patience. Parenteau delays the pass, allowing Eller to shake his coverage, creating a temporary odd-man rush, and leading to a fourth even-strength goal on the night.
Granted, the Lightning had a fairly rough night in terms of defensive coverage, which was not helped by their constant need to perform sloppy line changes, however there's a clear common theme to all of these goals.
Not only did they all coincide with controlled entries, but they all developed from controlled exits, which is an area the Canadiens failed to exploit throughout the regular season. It also led to a plethora of high danger scoring chances, another category in which Montreal has failed to excel.
Unfortunately for the Habs the deluge of goals is coming a little late, and it may not be enough to salvage the playoffs, but it was definitely an encouraging sign from a team that struggled with creativity through the first few games of the series.