Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
When: 7 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
Before the Lightning started their series with the Detroit Red Wings in the Atlantic Division Semifinal round (Eastern Conference Quarterfinals or Round 1, whatever you want to term it as), the idea Tampa Bay was going to dominate the series wouldn't have seemed outlandish with how the Lightning had played against the Red Wings over the course of the past two seasons - 7 wins in 9 games did set a picture that Tampa Bay held an upper hand in one fashion or another. Mike Babcock and his band of Winged Wheels turned that recent-history on its ear; one or two bounces going different ways and it'd be the Red Wings facing the Canadiens in the Atlantic Division finals (Eastern Conference Semifinals, Round 2, etc). Kyle discussed luck in his write up this morning.
Going 7 games against Detroit, I did not expect to see the Lightning continue to have wins against the Montreal Canadiens like they've incorporated all season. Lightning, Canadiens and NHL fans all should have expected a series with road bumps for each club and a thoroughly played series between the top two teams in the Atlantic Division in 2014-15. What we've a witness instead was a continuation of the Lightning's relationship with the Canadiens in the playoffs: Sweep emotion.
This is the third time in the history of the Tampa Bay Lightning that they've faced Les Habitants de Montreal in the playoffs. The first foray between the two clubs was back in 2004 when the teams also met in the 2nd round of the playoffs. The Lightning was marching toward the Stanley Cup Finals and rolled over Les Habs. The fact they had local and semi-local products Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards playing playoff hockey in Montreal didn't exactly hurt the club either.
Ten years later, a year ago, a vastly different Lightning team faced Montreal to start the NHL playoffs and... well, fell down, went boom. Montreal manhandled the Lightning, who were without their backbone in Ben Bishop as well as finding a balance pot-Marty St. Louis. The idea of home-ice advantage that Tampa Bay had played for to close the season was rendered moot.
While re-doing a series between the Lightning and the Canadiens was likely when you saw both clubs and how they played their regular season, seeing a repeat of a 4-game series seemed like an unlikely possibility; Les Habs were the Atlantic Division winners in the regular season, Carey Price will likely be minted as NHL MVP as well as the league's top goalie when the Awards are bestowed next month in Las Vegas... Yet that's where we are. It's all-or-nothing time for Les Habs and the true go-for-the-kill moment for the Lightning. Last night and how it ended seemed to break the Canadiens; how the broadcast showed the elation of the Lightning and Amalie Arena and contrasted that with the heartache and disdain from the Montreal players... It was just night and day to see.
The fact of the matter is that this series isn't over if the man of the moment shows up. Carey Price may have been the loser last night but he wasn't challenged for the majority of the game; 19 shots on goal, 2 allowed goals. His GAA is 2.97 for the series while his save percentage of .872 is far beneath him... Which is alarming in a way; if Bolts fans had waited for Steven Stamkos to score a goal during the playoffs then should understand Canadiens fans (and NHL fans in general) should be waiting for Price to do what he does best - shut down and shut out the opposition. While the team in front of him may be taxed from playing last night, Price should have more left in the reserves to stop the Bolts if he can get his act together. If he puts up that wall he's capable of, this series heading to Montreal for game 5 is what to expect.
On the Lightning side, while Ben Bishop faced 31 shots last night and did his best to stop what he could (30 o 31, it's not in the crease that focus lies - it's on the team in front of him. The Lightning put forward more of a defensive effort in the majority of the game after Alex Killorn put them on the board in the 1st period. 19 shots total on goal is well beneath them. Between that and the fact they should be well enthused after last night's last moment win, they've have momentum on their side.
They also have fresh bodies ready to step in, and I'm not talking Black Ace reserves; Nikita Nesterov (who has played in X playoff games) didn't skate last night and you're aware Cedric Paquette had injury issues that ultimately kept him out of game 3. Tampa Bay has the option to go with an 11-forward, 7-defenseman scheme again or 12-forward, 6 defense while swapping out a players for fresh bodies.
While Montreal has to go all-out to stay alive, the Lightning can't exactly sit back and rest at ease, and they know it:
Palat on #TBLightning changes for Game 4: "We need to play with more desperation. We need to play with higher energy and execute better."— Bryan Burns (@BBurnsNHL) May 7, 2015
A closing point that needs to be observed here is an observation made over at Eyes on the Prize during the opening round of the playoffs against the Ottawa Senators; the Canadiens found themselves with a 3-0 series lead going to game 4. That type of situation can be more daunting than it appears on the surface and proved to be the case for Les Habs; they won the series in 6 games instead of a straight sweep.
Other Game Coverage:
- Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview
- Full coverage on SB Nation
- Live stream of Tampa Bay Lightning coverage on Twitter