The Montreal Canadiens (46-28-8) are the only Canadian team to get into the playoffs this season but they didn’t slip in the back door, they have exceeded expectations this year and could make some noise if Carey Price plays like he can and they get back some of their wounded players in time for playoffs.
The Tampa Bay Lightning (46-27-9) are a team that has surprised many, considering the whole Martin St. Louis/Steve Yzerman/Steven Stamkos saga. They lost Stamkos to a broken tibia and relied on St. Louis to carry the team,which he did, and when they get Stamkos back, Yzerman trades St.Louis on his request, to the only team on his list: the New York Rangers. In return, they recieved Rangers captain Ryan Callahan and a draft pick. To be in this position is impressive.
#2 Lightning vs. #3 Canadiens
Season series: Lightning 3-1-0
* Denotes if necessary.
The Canadiens surprised many this year not as a team that could just make the playoffs but a team that could challenge for home ice advantage to start the playoffs. It came down to the final day in the season needing a loss by Tampa in either regulation or overtime to get that home ice advantage, but the Lightning defeated the Washington Capitals 1-0 in a shootout to get home ice advantage.
The story this year has been goaltender Carey Price, he’s carried the bulk of the load but Peter Budaj came in relief and played extremely well during Price’s injury after the Olympic break. Price is where the Canadiens are going to win or lose this playoff season; if he’s on his game he can take them deep all on his own. With additions like Thomas Vanek, George Parros, Dale Weise and Mike Weaver they added some much needed grit and some goal scoring especially with Alex Galchenyuk down with an injury that could keep him out of the playoffs.
Besides Galchenyuk, also out with injury is Lars Eller (virus, should be back for playoffs), Travis Moen (concussion, out indefinitely) and Brandon Prust (upper body and is out for the regular season but could be back for the first round).
The Canadiens lost the season series to the Lightning 1-3-0 but 3 of the games went to overtime and 2 of them went to a shootout with the Canadiens getting their only win by way of the shootout. The final game of the season was on April 1st which was a 3-1 Lightning victory with Alex Killorn scoring into the empty net with 45 seconds left in the game. Every game has been close and has come down to the wire.
Even though the Canadiens lost the season series I think this series comes down to goaltending and Price has the advantage as far as experience goes over Tampa’s goaltender Ben Bishop. Price came within one goal of knocking off the eventual Stanley Cup champs the Boston Bruins back in 2011 in the first round in overtime in game 7 and posted back to back shutouts for Olympic Gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Backstop: Carey Price is an Olympic Gold Medal champion, is probably the best goaltender in the game today and can steal wins for you. He had a 34-20-5 record, 2.32 GAA and a .927 save percentage which has him ranked 6th in the league.
The Tampa Bay Lightning has had a lot of distractions this season and to come away with a first round home ice advantage is pretty amazing.
First their top offensive player Steve Stamkos went down with a broken tibia early in the season. Secondly, Steve Yzerman the team’s general manager and also president of the Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey team left Martin St.Louis off the Olympic squad which caused some problems and hurt feelings. With Stamkos unable to play for Team Canada they replaced Stamkos with St.Louis but it didn’t seem to matter as St.Louis requested a trade to one team, the New York Rangers, which Yzerman obliged and brought in Ryan Callahan. Stamkos return couldn’t come at a better time but Stamkos was openly upset at the St.Louis Olympic saga and ultimately St.Louis being shipped out to the Rangers. It hasn’t hurt him point wise as Stamkos has returned to form since coming back.
Callahan has also been playing extremely well and if they can get Ben Bishop back in net for playoff time, which is the consensus from the team, they are going to be a handful for the Canadiens.
They have a number of key players out with injury, Mattias Ohlund is out for the season, Brian Lee is out indefinitely although the team hasn’t had these 2 players for the entire season and they still managed a pretty good regular season record. Also out are Ondrej Palat, Ryan Malone and Valtteri Filppula all doubtful for the first game of the playoffs. Teddy Purcell was out with the flu but should be ready for the first game.
The Lightning are going into the playoffs having won 4 in a row and nothing helps a playoff run better than confidence.
X-Factor: Steven Stamkos, the purest goal scorer in the game and other then Sidney Crosby probably the best player heading into the playoffs. He has speed and if he’s on his game Carey Price will have to be ready. Stamkos can win games all by himself.
Ex-Jets: No ex Jets players and no players from Manitoba.
Prediction Sure To Go Wrong:
I pick the Canadiens to win this series in 6 games simply because of Carey Price and special teams. The Canadiens powerplay can be deadly with P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov on the point and Vanek and the Lightning’s penalty kill was ranked 23rd in the league. The Canadiens penalty killing is ranked 4th in the league and I believe a good penalty kill over rides a good powerplay and even though Tampa has a decent powerplay ranked 13th in the league, it’s hard to score goals in this league.
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