The lone Canadian team that qualified for the post-season will have a decent matchup when the Montreal Canadiens face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.
The season series was very even. In 4 games, 3 required overtime and the other was a 1 goal game until Tampa scored an empty netter. The Bolts won once in overtime, and once in a shootout, while the Habs lone win came in a shootout.
The big question mark is whether or not Ben Bishop will be healthy enough to start the series after suffering an arm injury April 8th. If he can go, it will be a battle of two of the better netminders with him and Carey Price doing battle. If Bishop can’t go, then Price has a decided edge over Anders Lindback.
Montreal is led by defending Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban and wily veteran Andrei Markov. After that, the blue line is workmanlike but solid. As for Tampa, Victor Hedman has had a breakout season and a big part of why the Lighning have cut down their goals against.
Tampa was 11th in goals allowed, while Montreal was 0.1 goal per game better, placing 8th.
Montreal got big seasons from Max Pacioretty, whose 39 goals were almost double Tomas Plekanec‘s second place 20. The injury to Steven Stamkos that forced him to miss more than half the season really limited his production, but he finished with 40 points in 37 games and will be the key for the Lightning. The departed Martin St. Louis still finished atop the Lightning scoring race this season.
Montreal was in the lower half of the league in goals (21st) while the Bolts were in the top 10 (9th).
Montreal has traditionally relied on their power play, but that took a step back this season. They finished with the 19th best power play and had stellar penalty killing, finishing in the top 5. Tampa’s power play finished 13th, but should be more lethal with a healthy and rested Stamkos as the triggerman. The Lightning struggled on the penalty kill, with just over 80% success rate.
- Ryan Callahan is a playoff-type guy and could bring a much needed portion of grit to the Lightning lineup that would be considered soft. Callahan and Brendan Gallagher will probably get to know each other pretty well in this series. Callahan won’t match the offense of the guy he was traded for, but the style of game is more suited for the post-season.
- Michel Therrien will look to have more composure and control than he did in the first round last season. He is the only Canadian-based coach whose job seems firmly secure.
- The Canadiens need a first round win after the meltdown last year against the Senators.
- This is the first playoff appearance for the Lightning in 3 seasons after advancing to the Conference final in 2011.
- This could be the least physical matchup in the first round, and that could work in the favor of both teams.
This won’t be the most physical series and there will be a good display of skill. This one might come down to the left arm/shoulder of Bishop.
TAMPA BAY in 7
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