By now, the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning should be pretty familiar with one another. Aside from playing each other multiple times throughout the season, the Canadiens also swept the Lightning in last year’s Atlantic Division semifinals. Last year’s playoff series was only the second time in playoff history the two teams met. The first was back in 2004, and as we all know, that went well for Tampa, as they went on to win their first and only ever Stanley Cup.
This series will feature the most prolific offence in the league and the best goaltending, as the Lightning and Habs each finished at the very top of the league in goals for and goals against respectively.
The major issue for Tampa is whether or not Steven Stamkos, a key part of their regular season juggernaut, can get his game together when it matters most. If he wasn’t able to get it done against the Red Wings, will he be able to against a vastly superior defensive team in Montreal? If not, will this be a repeat of last year’s sweep for the Canadiens?
Simply put, the Lightning dominated the regular season series between these two clubs. There was only one game in which Tampa didn’t win by at least two goals, and that came in the form of an overtime win back in March. The Lightning also made up for that relatively low scoring output with a 7-1 drumming back in October to go along with a couple of 4-2 wins and a 5-3 win to boot. The Lightning also heavily outshot Montreal throughout the season series, as the Canadiens only managed more shots than Tampa in one of the games they played.
Of course, that’s just the regular season. If regular season stats were truly indicative, Tampa would have had a much easier time dealing with the Red Wings than they did. Instead, that series went all the way to game seven, and it was very close to being a Montreal vs Detroit match up in the second round.
A major key for the Lightning will be Steven Stamkos remembering how to score goals. Despite having 22 shots on goal, which is second most on the team, Stamkos has yet to score a goal in the playoffs. The team has leaned heavily on Tyler Johnson so far, who has six of Tampa’s 11 goals scored.
I’m not sure if the Red Wings randomly became legendary penalty killers, or if Tampa forgot how to get it done on the power play, but the Lightning, who are usually pretty good on the man advantage, somehow managed to only score two goals on 30 power play opportunities. It’s difficult to pin point exactly what the issue was here, but they had the best CorsiFor percentage of any team in the first round on the power play and they had a pretty respectable amount of unblocked shot attempts taken make it to the goalie.
They just couldn’t score. Their shooting percentage with the man advantage was only 4.1, which is hilariously low. Actually, it was third lowest, behind only the Islanders (who didn’t score a power play goal) and Montreal, who had an even more putrid power play.
This one is somewhat more explainable as Montreal didn’t have a great power play during the regular season anyway, but in their first round series, they only managed one goal on 20 opportunities with the man advantage. On top of that, they also allowed ottawa to score five goals on 20 chances, which is bizarre because they were in the top third in the league in penalty kill efficiency in the regular season.
Long story short, both teams were pretty awful on special teams in the first round and it resulted in them having a much more difficult time than they needed to. Neither team’s power play of penalty kill performed at the level it did during the regular season, so if both teams continue this trend, poor special teams play could be a wash.
Tampa Bay is pretty easily the better team in just about every single metric at even strength. It’s pretty obvious that Carey Price is the biggest reason why the Habs are as good a team as they are, considering they’re right in the middle between Edmonton and Arizona in terms of even strength CorsiFor percentage in the regular season. As noted, the one thing Montreal does have, is the best team save percentage in the league at even strength, obviously as a result of their MVP calibre goaltender.
The Lightning, on the other hand, are towards the top of the league in ShotsFor, CorsiFor, and FenwickFor percentage when adjusted for score. They also start the fewest amount of shits in the defensive zone of any team in the league, so all things considered, this suggests that they control the play much more than their opponents. This isn’t surprising, looking back at the season series between the who teams, Tampa heavily outshot Montreal game in game out, which is the predictable outcome of a series between a dominant possession team and a mediocre one.
The two teams actually had pretty similar peripherals through the first round of the playoffs, but if I had to venture a guess, I would say Tampa pretty easily has the advantage in the even strength game. But that’s just based on the regular season, which doesn’t mean anything now.
There’s really no argument to suggest Montreal doesn’t have the advantage here. Carey Price, whether he wins it or not, is this season’s most valuable player, easily. The Habs are going to go as far as he takes them. It’s likely they’re get out-chanced and outplayed by the Lightning this series, but if Price can stand tall, they can win the series. That being said, Ben Bishop also needs to prove he can get it done outside of the regular season. He’s proved he’s an elite goalie, but he was inconsistent in the first round and will need to be better for the Lightning to win this series, since goals will be hard to come by.
Although Tampa is pretty easily the better team here, defence wins championships. And I’m not talking about Montreal’s blue line. I think Price will steal this one for the Habs because Steven Stamkos can’t get it done for the Lightning. Canadiens in seven.