The story is well known. Last spring, the Montreal Canadiens swept the Tampa Bay Lightning before ending their Stanley Cup run one game short of a chance at the Finals. This season, however, has been a different story between the first-round rivals.
While an overtime loss in the March 10 meeting between the Canadiens and Lightning gave Montreal enough points (one) to land on the top of the NHL standings, the Lightning seem better suited for the spot (they are currently a mere point behind the League leader).
That has been clear throughout this season.
Only three games into the 2014-2015 season, the Lightning and Canadiens met for the first time since the first round sweep and the Bolts made a statement, scoring seven goals and allowing only one against Montreal, including a hat trick from a fully healed Steven Stamkos. For a team that had trouble beating Carey Price in the playoffs, not only did the Lightning chase him from the crease after four goals in two periods, they also lit up his back-up Dustin Tokarski with three more goals.
The next time the two teams met was January 6, when Tampa won 4-2 while outshooting Montreal 36-22. On the March 10 game, it was more of the same. Tampa outshot Montreal 36-19 and won the game 1-0 in overtime. If not for the Vezina-worthy goaltending of Carey Price – who had to make several highlight-reel saves in the game – the outcome may have been more lopsided than the final score may suggest.
A goalie can only be counted on robbing top talent like the Lightning has on their roster so many times and Price finally broke from the onslaught of shots. Tyler Johnson, who was riding a six-game point streak entering the game, scored the game winning goal in the final minutes of overtime.
In fact, Tampa leads the NHL in goals per game at 3.25 while Montreal is in the 22nd spot, sandwiched between two teams outside of the playoff picture (Philadelphia and Colorado). Montreal is number one on the opposite end of the spectrum: in goals against per game at 2.15. Stamkos might be third in the NHL in goals at 36, but Johnson leads the Lightning in points (65) and his Triplets teammates have 56 (Nikita Kucherov) and 52 (Ondrej Palat) points as well. Four players on the Lightning on two different lines have over 50 points, compared to one (Max Pacioretty) on the Canadiens roster.
But of all of the stats, this might be the most telling:
— Bryan Burns (@BBurnsNHL) March 11, 2015
One year after getting swept at the hand of the Canadiens, the Lightning now have them in their rear-view mirror.
Michelle Timian fell in love with hockey after watching a game between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs in 2006 and has been following hockey ever since. She is a graduate of Western Illinois University with a degree in Creative Writing and is more comfortable in front of a keyboard than on skates. She also blogs for the New York Rangers at blueshirtsunited.com.