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Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens: Possible playoff preview

Spin the wheel of defense to see who’s scratched.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning: Game 39

Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: SunS

Opponent SBNation Site: Habs Eyes on the Prize

Preview:

The Tampa Bay Lightning host the Montreal Canadiens tonight in what could end up being a first round playoff preview. As of today, the Lightning would get the Bruins in the first round, but Boston and Montreal are only separated by one point, so that will likely change multiple times through the rest of the season.

The Canadiens enter this game playing well. They have seven wins in their last ten games, including three straight. They’re again without Carey Price, who is not with the team on their current road trip due to a lower body injury. That means that the Lightning will face Antti Niemi.

Last season, the Lightning faced Niemi five teams for three different teams and won all five games. Niemi allowed nineteen goals in those games. Most them came in his first two meetings with the Bolts when he allowed five and seven goals in consecutive appearances with two different teams within nine days of each other. He was better in the rest of his appearances, allowing two or three goals in each and losing the last two games in a shootout.

The Lightning enter this game with several questions about how their lineup will look. JT Miller and Mikhail Sergachev both left Thursday’s game with injuries. Miller is listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury and did not skate yesterday. Sergachev has not been officially listed with an injury after blocking a shot with his kneecap and did skate yesterday. Mathieu Joseph also participated fully in practice but was still on Injured Reserve as of this morning.

Given all of that, I’m going to speculate that Joseph will still be out of the lineup and Miller will join him. The question is whether Sergachev will play. Normally, it would make sense to give him the night off as the Lightning rotate through their seven defenders. But with the opponent being the team that drafted him, the Bolts might want to give him the chance to play.

If that’s how things go, it would mean Erik Cernak will be scratched for a second consecutive game, unless the team decides to rest Braydon Coburn or Dan Girardi. It would also mean Adam Erne could get a game on the third line and Danick Martel gets back into the lineup. Erne has looked great in his minutes so far this season, so it would be good for him to show what he can do playing up in the lineup with more skilled players. The Lightning could also go with seven defenders and eleven forwards, but they haven’t seemed as interested in running that alignment this season as they have been in the past.

Comparison chart:

The Canadiens statistical profile is in line with—if not slightly better than—their results. They’ve been great at 5v5. They’re sixth in the league in expected goal share, which is only four spots behind the Lightning. They’ve been let down by goaltending and special teams play. The goaltending has improved in the last ten games and is climbing back toward league average. The special teams remain a problem, which could be an issue for them tonight against the Lightning’s dominant power play.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

Tyler Johnson - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov

Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Yanni Gourde

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Adam Erne

Danick Martel - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan

Defense Pairings

Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi

Ryan McDonagh - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev

Slater Koekkoek - Erik Cernak

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Louis Domingue

Montreal Canadiens

Forward Lines

Paul Byron - Phillip Danault - Brendan Gallagher

Jonathan Drouin - Max Domi - Artturi Lehkonen

Tomas Tatar - Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Andrew Shaw

Nicolas Deslauriers - Michael Chaput - Kenny Agostino

Defense Pairings

Victor Mete - Shea Weber

Mikey Reilly - Jeff Petry

Brett Kulak - Jordie Benn

Goalies

Antti Niemi

Michael McNiven