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The chips are down but the show goes on; Tampa Bay Lightning at Montreal Canadiens preview

Where: Bell Centre, Montréal, Quebec
When: 7:30 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Media: (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: All Habs, Habs Eyes on the Prize

Yeah, we’re at that “the show must go on” moment again where the Lightning are in Montreal after injuries. The thing that baffled this writer this morning is the fact Cedric Paquette is centering the Tampa Bay Lightning’s second line, a combination where he isn’t substitute for the TKO trio’s #9, Tyler Johnson.

Wait, wait, Cedric Paquette?! If you weren’t watching Saturday’s loss to Detroit, the most demoralizing moment of the afternoon was Paquette’s knee/leg injury after he barreled into the goal post. We had seen it in November 2013 with Steven Stamkos, it looked gruesome. Yet he participated in the morning skate with the Bolts at Bell Centre in a regular jersey. He’s still listed as day-to-day. Johnson, on the other hand, did not participate in practice.

Everything was like a tossed salad with lines and defensive pairings at the morning skate. You can question choices and combinations as you please, but from reports by the local beat writers:

Alex KillornValtteri Filppula – Steven Stamkos
Jonathan Drouin – Cedric Paquette – Ryan Callahan
Ondrej PalatVladislav NamestnikovNikita Kucherov
Brendan Morrow – Brian Boyle – J.T Brown

On defense:

Victor HedmanLuke Witkowski
Nikita NesterovAnton Stralman
Matt Carle – Mark Barberio

Note that Andrej Sustr is missing in action… And it will be like that for a week or two from what Jon Cooper told reporters today after the morning skate. Tyler Johnson is out for tonight (I’ll add “at least” – my words – as these things can linger) while Paquette? Paquette remains a game time decision.

The most critical of the injuries sustained Saturday at Detroit was to defenseman Jason Garrison. Reports on the radio in Tampa Bay this morning this morning cited Jon Cooper as saying that Garrison was “out for the season.” Before you panic with that quote, the season is 6 more games long for the Lightning. Did he mean season or basically the year? Garrison’s upper-body injury will keep him out 3 to 4 weeks from what Cooper shared.

That’s a disappointment but also a relief… Garrison will be available likely in the second round of the playoffs. The challenge is that the Lightning have to get there first.

While Luke Witkowski is in the lineup after his recall, it appears Jonathan Marchessault is insurance at this point in time. Both players were officially recalled officially this morning (though news of the transaction became public last night). Marchessault will also likely be inserted somewhere if Paquette is truly a no-go tonight.

Injuries and recalls aside, the Lightning are playing back-to-back games for the last time this season, starting tonight in Montreal. Tomorrow they’ll be in Toronto to take on the catastrophe that is the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Center. The more imposing task is making a show tonight against Les Habs.

The Lightning have gone 4-0-0 against Montreal this season (or “Montreal has gone 0-3-1 against the Lightning”), outscoring the Canadiens 15-5 in those games. Yet it’s Montreal that has all but locked up the Atlantic Division title while Carey Price looks like a lock for the Vezina Trophy (41 wins in 61 starts, a 1.88 GAA and a .937 save percentage) his numbers against the Lightning have been uncharacteristic of his general season play (.906 save percentage and a 3.29 GAA)).

There’s ample reason already to doubt the Bolts tonight. Knowing Price has not played like himself against the Lightning during the four previous games is another. Much like Saturday’s game in Detroit, a correction is very much possible in play this evening, taking advantage of a wounded Tampa Bay team and minting a regular-season division title.

…or Tampa Bay endures and overcomes. They’ve done it before.

Ben Bishop starts opposite Price, which isn’t surprising. His spurts of allowed-goals the last two games has been concerning, as was addressed over the weekend, but the blame was laid on the entire club, not just Bishop.

Other Game Coverage:

True or false: Tampa Bay will finish the season with 50 wins.

True 157
False 21
Shootout 26

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