The Atlantic Division Semifinals, round 1 of the NHL playoffs for the Lightning and Canadiens, is over and the reset button has once again been applied (or should be in your mental consciousness). What was done in the Canadiens series against the Ottawa Senators is done, what happened in the Bolts series against the Red Wings is in the history books; Tampa Bay and Les Habs are 0-0 for the playoffs. Think of it like round 1 was the preseason... What happened back then doesn't apply to the moment, to the now. Yes, the stats database adds up all the points achieved in playoff games like they all are part of another solid season and yet that's not the way this elimination tournament is played. One foe, up to seven games of play, and then the next foe the approach can be so different that who was vital and who was deplorable in the previous series reverses like magic.
As for Lightning success against Montreal this season in how you look at the games ahead... I'll let Steven Stamkos say it:
Stamkos, asked how much a factor regular season success vs. Montreal would have on playoffs, replied: "None. This is a brand new ballgame."— Bryan Burns (@BBurnsNHL) May 1, 2015
It might have been laid out in the StoryStream summary for today's game, but Carey Price's stats against the Lightning in the regular season mean jack right now. Stamkos' struggles against the Red Wings are moot, as is the potency Tyler Johnson displayed.
What is still very much applicable is the awe of the moment - it's not just the NHL playoffs tonight, it's the NHL playoffs in Montreal, Quebec. That weight for hockey players can't be taken away (to be there, now) but it is a good thing that most of this squad has been through this before (last season). Some of those who haven't have been playing in the awe of the moment and the venue for years prior (Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle didn't exactly play in a forgettable place when they patrolled the ice at Madison Square Garden, Coburn was exposed to awe and awful moments plenty while with the Flyers). The fact the weight of the games and everything that happens in them is heavier now because we're further along with the playoffs.
And while the Canadiens have every reason o gun for retribution for being defeated 5 times by the Lightning during the regular season, the Lightning have their own reason to go into tonight, tomorrow, and all games of this series with something to prove - being swept out of the playoffs last season and dismissed as also-rans is not the value or true ability of this team nor does it show just what they're capable of.
Yet getting into a disagreement over underdog status isn't what needs to be happening here. The Lightning and Canadiens are two potent clubs who showed themselves fully worthy of getting to this point in time. Trying to motivate rosters and rile up the media by speaking of the challenges ahead is going to happen but the games are supposed to be what proves the top-dog/underdog thing... And to be frank, it's stupid to want to be the underdog at this point. You feel challenged, yeah, but anyone playing in the playoffs feels challenged. Working through adversity can provide more drive and yet more obstruction as well. There are clear underdogs still playing in these playoffs (the Calgary Flames, the Minnesota Wild) but Tampa nor Montreal are of that status.
Geofitz pointed out this morning that Valtteri Filppula had limited ice time in game 7 against the Red Wings and could have (note that) been scratched tonight, but reports this morning say it's Jonathan Drouin and Mark Barberio who are once again locked out of playing (unless circumstances change in the next few hours). Filppula will play and the bigger question is if the Lightning goes with 7 defensemen or not. The 11/7 roster split was used quite a bit last season (2013-14) and in years prior under Guy Boucher, but hadn't been rearing its head much with the Lightning this season. The stability of the Lightning defense as well as the faith the team has in Nikita Nesterov is two major factors bringing the game night roster split back to life. There's also the fact that Braydon Coburn and Jason Garrison are in post-injury status; if they're healed or playing with pain won't be known until the Lightning's playoffs are done and that means seeing an insurance D man on game nights may be to cover for hurt or perhaps just throw the lineup twist for the opposition to defend against.
While a lot of the post-morning-skate press talk has focused on last season and that series, there's one narrative and storyline that's been neglected. Much like the Lightning/Red Wings series, the AHL past of the Lightning roster does have ties in this game (though they shouldn't be in direct competition): While Carey Price carries the load in net for the Habs, our old friend Dustin Tokarski is his backup in net. Tik was part of the Lightning organization up until 2013 when he was traded to the Canadiens for Cedrick Desjardins in an AHL-but-org-depth move. Jon Cooper, Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Mark Barberio all were with him in Norfolk / Syracuse. The roster focus for the days ahead will be on the guys playing the games, but it's worth acknowledging a very capable goalie is behind the force that is Carey Price.
One last note about this game and about this series: I'm paraphrasing here with a source so I do apologize if it comes off as misleading but I do recall Brandon Prust, speaking to the press after a loss to the Lightning that the Habs needed to be more physical to slow the Tampa Bay game... If you see a more physical effort (checking and such) from the Habs tonight, they've taken Prust's advice. With or without that advice, a sideshow that may once again rear itself in this game is Prust vs. Ben Bishop. The two have had multiple incidents of confrontation during regular-season play over the past two seasons. I don't expect it to stop now when results matter the most.
Other Game Coverage:
- Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview
- Full coverage on SB Nation
- Live stream of Tampa Bay Lightning coverage on Twitter