Where: Bell Centre, Montréal, Quebec
When: 6 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Media: NBC Sports Net (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: All Habs, Eyes on the Prize
For the diehard contingent of the readership, I've got great news! This game is so important it's coming to you an hour early; the league was so excited about it that the start time is 6 PM and not 7! I also have some bad news too: it's the last game in the Lightning/Canadiens series until Wednesday night. You'll have to find a way to survive an extra day before the Bolts and Habs play back-to-back games at Amalie Arena. I have confidence you'll find a way to do it.
With that being taken care of, is it safe or not to assume tonight will be a continuation of game 1 at Bell Centre? Les Habitants de Montreal found them defeated by what amounted to an offside's goal by Nikita Kucherov moments into double overtime on Friday night. From a third party perspective, the he-was-offside aspect is just a throw away notion with a thrilling, close game coming to a conclusion in the most tense and best time in the playoffs (sudden death). Suffice it to say, the Canadiens are not going to be happy about losing in such a fashion. At the same time, how do they change their approach in this one?
With how Carey Price has performed all season for the Habs, the idea that Michel Therrien might call for a more risk-taking approach isn't outlandish; defense pinching in a bit more in the attack zone (which may or may not result in odd-man rushes on Price). Why take the risk when Friday was such an evenly fought game, though? Both clubs can't get the power play going while both goalies are doing what they do best - stopping the puck.
While Carey Price is a finalist for the Vezina Award and Hart Trophy for best goalie and league MVP and Friday's effort more than solid, he was beaten by Ben Bishop in goal. He faced fewer shots (35 as to 44, 30 at even strength at to 36 for Bishop) but let in the one tally that defined that game as a win for the Lightning. Would putting him under more pressure work, especially with his record against Tampa Bay this season (and how it served as the abnormality compared to his otherwise stellar season)? Perhaps; bored goalies can too often be exploited because their minds wander and the Lightning saw that last round against the Red Wings when Bishop did have his weaker games (left idle, turning into a sieve when challenged).
The one other critical point for both clubs is the power play as both teams are lower than abysmal at the man-advantage; Tampa Bay is a 5.9% efficiency while Montreal is just over 4% (4.4) in its conversion rate. The only team among the 16 playoff contenders who had a lower conversion rate than either Tampa Bay or Montreal is the New York Islanders (who never converted on power play opportunities in their 7 games with the Washington Capitals). How much better is the 13th place Chicago Blackhawks power play? 15.0%, which the Chicago Blackhawks have, may seem like a putrid conversion rate, but I think either the Bolts or the Habs would appreciate that level of invigoration for the man-advantage at this point.
That continues to underline the notion Montreal might want to try to play closer to the fringe of risk. Leaving Bell Centre in a 0-2 hole for back-to-back games in Tampa is not the direction that Montreal wants this series to go, while the Lightning would certainly prefer to get through the lion's den with that kind of advantage in the playoff series. Couple it with the undefeated season series against the Canadiens and you have a stranglehold (in perception) and seeming control of what the series outcome will be.
It's not a certainty if the Lightning lineup will be the same for this evening as it was on Friday; the morning skate was optional and makes everything a guessing game with who plays and who's watching from the press box. I think Kyle underlined it best with some of the head scratching elements to the lineup during the playoffs (meaning Jonathan Drouin's status as an outcast like Jon Snow from the Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones series). Head Coach Jon Cooper said this morning that Drouin will play this series, but he also played up Drouin playing time last series... So take it with a grain of salt, even though it is a statement coming from the guy who makes the call. With the inefficiency on the power play and knowing of Drouin's offensive prowess, getting the rookie back into the lineup (and killing the no-faith narrative) wouldn't be a bad idea.
Other Game Coverage:
- Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview
- Full coverage on SB Nation
- Live stream of Tampa Bay Lightning coverage on Twitter