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Wary of "stupid season"; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Montreal Canadiens preview

Passion, intensity and frustration have a way of shattering NHL discipline come March and making for a very ugly time in the league.

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Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Where:  Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
When: 7:30 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: All HabsEyes on the Prize

By the time you reach mid-March (where we are) in the NHL, two truths start playing out on a daily basis for teams:

1.      In one way or another, every game is important. If you're on the cusp of a playoff berth, you gotta win to get in.  If you're pretty much assured of a playoff berth, you're trying to win your division or secure a good playoff seed and home-ice advantage.

2.      It's stupid season, when players let emotions or frustrations get the better of them and mistakes - I am not talking missed coverage - get made on ice that plays to the stereotypes of hockey being a sport driven by violence over skill and discipline; where the aw shucks off-ice demeanor of players is thrown out the window in favor of the perception that hockey players are dominated by rage, anger, and hate.

Stupid season was on display on Saturday at Amalie Arena with Nikita Kucherov's hit on Toby Enstrom. It was reckless and ill-timed in a poorly played affair by the Lightning. Kucherov gave the Lightning momentum in the third by scoring the opening goal of the game... and then took that momentum away by sending Toby Enstrom into the boards, face-first. League action looked like a certainty as the hit occurred during a Hockey Night in Canada telecast.  Yeah,  well, about that...

That's something to take relief in after the trio of injuries that came by way of the Bolts affair against Les Habitants de Montreal last week.

But Saturday was a mess, a trap game as Erik Erlendsson at the Tampa Tribune labeled it, where the effort that was needed wasn't there; only mustering 16 shots on goal in a game is just not going to work in most cases.

Effort has to be there tonight as the Montreal Canadiens are an entirely different breed of competition than the Winnipeg Jets. Yeah, yeah, Tampa Bay has gone 3-0 on Les Habs this season. Sure, they've outscored Montreal 11-3 this season and made trophy-winner-in-waiting goalie Carey Price look like a not-ready-for-prime-time player two of the three meetings so far this season.

Yet Montreal didn't get 93 points in 69 games by chance. They're not the Atlantic Division leader by a formality.  They're good, even if three of the five games scheduled against Tampa Bay this season have been losses so far.

Les Habs, coming off their road-victory against the Islanders on Saturday, are playing back-to-back games in Florida to start the week. They're 5-3-2 in their past 10 games and 21-11-2 on the road. I'm also pretty sure they want to solve Ben Bishop, who has posted a .949 save percentage and a 0.99 goals against average in his three starts against them this season.

Carey Price improved his stats against Tampa Bay after his performance last Tuesday; his numbers are still an inflated mess (a 3.49 GAA and a .905 save percentage) that doesn't resemble what he's done against the NHL in general up to this point (a 1.91 GAA, a .936 save percentage in 56 games played).

Knowing what Carey Price and Les Habs are capable of and what Ben Bishop and the Bolts have achieved against them, this should be another great affair between the two clubs... if stupid season and the shedding of discipline in order to "send a message" doesn't rear its ugly head.

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