NHL Playoffs 2014: Round 1 Preview – Tampa Bay Lightning vs Montreal Canadiens
Next up in Ice Nation UK’s Playoff Preview extravaganza is this Atlantic Division matchup between Tampa Bay and Montreal, as Steven Stamkos goes head-to-head with PK Subban.
SERIES BEGINS: WEDNESDAY, APRIL 16
PUCK DROP: 7:00pm EST (12:00am GMT) IN TAMPA BAY
BY THE NUMBERS
|240 / 215
|215 / 204
|LAST 10 GAMES||7-3-0||7-2-1|
|TOP POINT SCORER||59 PTS
|TOP GOAL SCORER
(V. FILPPULA &
| 39 G
|TOTAL 5v5 SV%||92.8%||93.0%|
MONTREAL CANADIENS SEASON LOWDOWN:
Montreal has spent the regular season making solid, but slow progress towards the play-offs. They’ve relied on the skills of Carey Price and Pacioretty’s knack for finding the back of the net from just about anywhere to keep them moving forward.
The Habs’ more mature players have finessed their way to wins, while young stars like P.K. Subban have added energy and edginess. However, that edginess landed them in the box for a total of 1,063 minutes this season.
The team’s talent pool has been deep all season. Adding Vanek and Weaver around the deadline has given them the edge they needed to ensure a spot in the final Eastern 8. Montreal may have some of the smaller players.
MONTREAL CANADIENS PLAYER TO WATCH:
Tomas Plekanec – Tomas has been able to hold down some of the highest scoring players in the league, including Crosby and Ovechkin. Plekanec is just as able to find his own way to the goal as he is at getting in the way. His end to end play is going to be a deciding factor against Tampa.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING SEASON LOWDOWN:
Tampa played almost half their season without their top player, Steven Stamkos, and still managed to turn out a decent performance. They’ve had youngsters like Tyler Johnson who’ve stepped up to fill in some of the gap left behind Stamkos. Ben Bishop has been their go-to-goalie this season and helped keep their season alive in the absence of Stamkos’ offensive play.
The Lightning struggled with a dismal penalty kill, but gave teams a reason to be cautious with their ability to score on the power play. Their power play skills and overall ability to score has been hugely affected by the presence, or lack thereof, of Stamkos.
Defensive play in Tampa was much more stable over the season. Victor Hedman did a great job of leading the rest of the defense and providing consistent coverage for Bishop and Lindback. With Bishop out of game 1, the defense is going to have to be as consistent to help keep them in contention.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING PLAYER TO WATCH:
Tyler Johnson is the player to watch for the Bolts. He’s a solid player who’s able to score and has become a force on the penalty kill. Johnson’s a young player and should be able to take his recent success in the AHL to a new level in these playoffs. He needs to use that experience to stay focused and resist the Habs ability to get under the skin of their opponents.
The Canadiens and Lightning are statistical twins. The teams took 3 of their 4 regular season games to OT, and 2 of those games ended in a shootout. Their play-off series is going to look much like their regular season match ups, so both teams are going to have to add an extra dose of grit to get ahead. Expect Montreal to pull out all the stops on being aggressive all over the ice and doing a good job at getting in the heads of the Lightning.
Having Stamkos back is going put Tampa in better position to score, forcing the Habs to focus a lot of their defensive energy on him and leaving other capable scorers like Johnson access to the net.
However, the loss of Bishop for the start of the series could be a major problem. Lindback is likely to struggle under the attack of an almost completely healthy Montreal offensive squad, including Pacioretty, Plekanec, and Gallagher. Even with their ability to score goals, unless Carey Price falls way off his game, Tampa is just not going to be able to get it done.
Overall prediction – Canadiens in six games.
STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF ICE NATION UK’S NHL PLAYOFF PREVIEWS.