The Montreal Canadiens are down 2-0 in their playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s time to panic. Game one was a brawl between two Eastern Conference powers, a game that went into double overtime before Nikita Kucherov of the Lightning scored the game winner.
Game two was not close, as the Lightning pounded the Canadiens 6-2. It’s time for the Habs to win. Wednesday night’s tilt in Tampa will be the biggest game of the season for Montreal, with a win desperately needed to put them back in the series.
Remember the San Jose Sharks being down 3-0 against the Detroit Red Wings in 2011? The Sharks clawed back in it and while eventually losing, made it a seven game series. Torrey Mitchell was on that Sharks team, and has not lost hope in his Habs. On the Canadiens website, Mitchell said,
“Even in the last series, you saw how difficult it was for us to close things out in Ottawa. We don’t feel like we’re done at all. We’re excited about the next game. That’s where our focus is at right now.”
Yes, it is tough to close out a NHL playoff series, but the Lightning are not going to roll over. It will take everything veteran players like Mitchell can give to rally from down 2-0.
In the nets
The Canadiens have an elite goalie in Carey Price. He is a co-winner of the Jennings Trophy along with Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks. The William M. Jennings Trophy is an annual award given to the goalkeeper(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it. Price led the NHL in wins, goals-against average (1.96) and save percentage (.933). He also had nine shutouts.
Ben Bishop is no slouch. His regular season goals-against average was 2.32 and save percentage was .916. He notched four shutouts. His playoff performance has been excellent, and playing Wednesday night at home will likely be an added boost. This save against Canadiens forward Tomas Plekanec in game one was spectacular.
It’s advantage Bishop in game three. He’s up 2-0 and at home. Carey Price will no doubt be playing tense, knowing that any goal that gets by could be the one that puts his team in a 3-0 ditch.
He’s been a beast so far in the playoffs, having faced 257 shots in eight playoff games. He’s only allowed 20 goals, which is a .922 save percentage. Even the great Don Cherry has Price’s back, saying,
“I feel so sorry for Price. He’s under the gun every game.”
The Habs need to give Price more help, especially on the power play, which was dreadful this past Sunday.
Canadiens not dead
Lightning brush off idea they have Canadiens number: The Tampa Bay Lightning may be in control of the Eastern … http://t.co/7c9SAnmL7y
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@NHL_TampaBay) May 5, 2015
The Lightning are up, but not overconfident. Center Brian Boyle knows that the Canadiens are not going to be easy to put away. Boyle said on the team’s website,
“As the series goes on we’ve got to expect they are going to up the ante a little bit and we have to match that.”
Even though the Lightning are riding a seven-game winning streak against the Habs, anything can happen. Canadiens defenceman Tom Gilbert agrees. Gilbert said,
“I think if we keep sticking to it, we know we can beat this team. It doesn’t matter how many times they beat us throughout the regular season, Game 1 or Game 2.”
The fact is that the Lightning have had their number all season, and there’s no reason to think that is going to change. But, Lightning coach Jon Cooper isn’t counting the series as over just yet. Cooper said,
“It’s still a race to four and we’re only halfway there. We’ve beat Montreal seven straight times and that’s great, but we need two more wins. What’s in the past is in the past.”
That being said, the pressure is absolutely on the Canadiens to win game three.
The added wild card or “X factor” in this series is that Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has ended his scoring drought. After going 11 games without a goal, Stamkos broke the ice in game two on a breakaway goal that he put cleanly past Carey Price.
If Stamkos gets hot, it may be lights out for the Habs. His 43 goals in the regular season were second best in the NHL behind Alex Ovechkin. A scoring Stamkos is not what the Canadiens need at this critical point in this series.
Canadiens can do this
It looks dismal being down 2-0 and going on the road in the NHL Playoffs. But, they do have the weapons to claw their way back into the series. Getting the power play defense straight is priority one. Price will hold his own but he has to have his team’s help. And there is always the potential for PK Subban to get into rare form, as this Leafs fan noted:
Subban has played well throughout the playoffs, albeit with some questionable tactics. The slash to Mark Stone’s hand being the obvious example. The slash was part of the “pump up” montage that the tea used for motivation at the start of the second round. It does not look like it helped.
The Canadiens need to get back to strong defense and put pressure on Ben Bishop. It’s really that simple. IF they do that, they can get back into this series. If not, they might be watching the Eastern Conference Finals at home.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.