If you asked the players, it's doubtful any of them would say that a pair of convincing regular season wins erases the memory of a series sweep at the hands of the Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs from a season ago.
Still, a 4-2 win on Montreal ice to claim first place in the division and the conference is nothing to scoff at. The Lightning rode a strong second period and, perhaps, an improved power play to a 4-2 victory over the Habs on Tuesday night at Bell Center.
It's hard to find fault with the early start for the Tampa Bay Lightning; they held the Habs to zero shots on goal until there were less than 7 minutes remaining in the 1st period. The Habs did nearly score early but the shot hit both posts and stayed out, in spite of what local fans in Montreal would have had you believe. The Lightning did struggle, yet again, on a pair of 1st period power plays including 30 seconds of 5v3 time. The Habs got on the board first with a late period push, as Dale Weise deflected a shot from Tomas Plekanec to send the Habs into the first intermission with the 1-0 lead in spite of a very strong first 13 minutes from the Lightning.
The Habs managed an early push in the 2nd to try and extend their lead, but the Lightning settled in and scored 4 unanswered goals in the second to race out to a 4-1 lead. J.T. Brown drew the Bolts even with his first goal in 14 appearances and in his first game since December 27 after a string of healthy scratches. He put a rebound of a Jonathan Drouin shot into the open net for a 1-1 tie. Tyler Johnson added a pair of power play tallies as a new-look top unit that moved Steven Stamkos to the power play alignment with Palat, Johnson, and Nikita Kucherov cashed in to extend the Lightning lead.
The power play goals were sandwiched around a top corner snipe from Brett Connolly on a 4-on-2 rush after an egregious breakdown by the Habs. Suddenly, the Lightning had a big lead to protect heading into the final frame rather than trying to scratch and claw back into things on the road in the third.
As they have all season, the Lightning stayed aggressive with the lead in the third, trying to play down in Montreal's end rather than retreating into a defensive shell. Unfortunately, poor defensive coverage on a quick entry and touch pass by Bredan Gallagher freed Max Pacioretty alone in the slot for a quick shot that trickled through Ben Bishop to give the Habs life at 4-2 with a lot of time remaining in the 3rd.
The Habs managed a flurry of late scoring chances, but the Lightning did well to keep most looks out of the slot. A hooking call on David Desharnais eliminated the chance for a last-minute comeback and the Lightning held on for a 4-2 win to vault them into 1st place in the Atlantic Division and the East.
- The two points puts the Lightning in 1st place in the Atlantic and the Eastern Conference -- for now. Tampa has 56 points in 42 games; Montreal drops to 54 in 40 games. So the Habs keep their two games in hand but now are two points behind. Their 25 regulation or overtime wins (ROW) puts them at 1st in the entire NHL, though they lag in points percentage behind a handful of teams.
- Valtteri Filppula skated in his 600th NHL game, recording 1 assist in 18:08 of ice time.
- J.T. Brown skated a team-low 8:08, but for the most part didn't miss a beat on the fourth forward unit, adding an element of speed and a relentless forechecking and backchecking ability that unit has missed at times with Brian Boyle and Brenden Morrow not the swiftest forwards in the league.
- The Bolts gave up just 22 shots in the game, and only 13 through two periods when the outcome of the game was still in question. While some will look to this season's dominance of the Habs so far as a credit to Ben Bishop, the real credit belongs with a skater unit that is controlling play much better than they did last spring.
- The power play has been a wreck all year long and one game doesn't undo 40 games worth of horribleness, but for at least one night the man advantage clicked. Anton Stralman manned the center point with four forwards: Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat. It worked. I'd expect to see more of it moving forward.
- The Lightning out-attemped the Habs in all three periods and carried a healthy 57.83% 5v5 Corsi for the game.
- Tampa Bay's top three possession players at 5v5: Mark Barberio (80% Corsi For), Jonathan Drouin (76.47%), and Alex Killorn (72.00%). The normally dominant Triplets line was bested in terms of possession by the Habs but the new top line of Steven Stamkos between Alex Killorn and Jonathan Drouin more than made up for the off night.