With the Stanley Cup Playoffs set to begin Wednesday, CSNWashington.com is previewing each of the eight first round matchups.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (A2) VS. MONTREAL CANADIENS (A3)
If the four game regular season series between the Lightning and Canadiens is any indication, their first round playoff matchup could be a low-scoring, tight-checking, grind-it-out affair.
The Lightning took three of the four meetings with Montreal this season, but only one of the four contests was decided in regulation- a 3-1 Tampa Bay win on April 1, in which an Alex Killorn empty net goal in the final minute of regulation provided the two goal gap. The three other Lightning-Canadiens meetings this season all went to overtime tied 1-1.
BETWEEN THE CREASE: Among the biggest storylines heading into this series are the different situations both teams face in goal.
Despite a 9-17 lifetime record in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Canadiens goalie Carey Price has clearly established himself among the best netminders in the game. The 26-year-old went 34-20-5 during the regular-season with a career-high .927 save percentage and a personal best 2.32 goals-against-average. Price also won a gold medal as Canada’s No.1 goalie at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and he is arguably Montreal’s biggest asset heading the postseason.
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The Lightning, on the other hand, aren’t quite certain how their goaltending situation will play out in Round 1, as No.1 Ben Bishop remains sidelined with an upper-body injury suffered in the fourth-to-last game of the regular season.
Bishop started 63 of Tampa Bay’s first 79 games this season, but backup Anders Lindback impressed down the stretch with a 3-0-0 record and two shutouts in the final week of the regular season.
Both Lightning goalies have limited playoff experience, with Bishop having yet to appear in a postseason game, while Lindback made an 11 minute cameo appearance for the Nashville Predators in 2011.
The Lightning also have Latvian prospect Kristers Gudlevskis, who began the year in the ECHL and later made a name for himself with a 55-save performance in a 2-1 quarterfinal defeat against Canada at the Olympics.
BITS & BOLTS: While Alex Ovechkin ran away with his fourth career Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard Trophy with a League-best 51 goals this season, Lightning forward Steven Stamkos likely would have made things interesting had he not missed 45 games with a broken leg.
Stamkos finished with 25 goals and 40 points in 37 games this season, and the Lightning captain says that he feels fresh for Tampa Bay’s first playoff appearance in three years.
Along with Stamkos, Tampa Bay has received contributions from the dynamic rookie duo of Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. Johnson led all NHL rookies with 24 goals on the year and his five shorthanded tallies were tied for the League lead. Former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan should provide some much needed playoff experience to the relatively young group of Tampa Bay forwards.
MONTREAL MOMENTUM: The Canadiens closed out the regular season with an 11-3-1 record down the stretch, and received consistent productivity from their No.1 line of Thomas Vanek, David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty (18 goals, 41 points in final 14 games). Pacioretty finished with a career-high 39 goals this season, fourth most in the NHL.
Montreal’s power play struggled down the stretch, going 0-for-23 over the final eight games of the season, and defenseman P.K. Subban has gone a season-high 19 games without a goal and has a minus-9 rating over that stretch.
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