Fans of the Tampa Bay Lightning were let down a bit after the team finally lost a game in the Stanley Cup Final. Tampa dropped Game 4 in overtime to the Montreal Canadiens, ruining the chance at a four-game sweep. Former Columbus Blue Jacket Josh Anderson scored the game-winning goal in overtime to extend the series with a 3-2 victory. Tampa is up in the series 3-1 and headed back to Amalie Arena. Lightning fans undoubtedly wanted the win, but many have expressed that winning it all on home ice will be that much sweeter, including Tampa mayor Jane Castor.
“What we would like is for the Lightning to take it a little bit easy, to give the Canadiens just the smallest break, allow them to win one at home, and then bring it back to Amalie Arena for the final and the winning of the Stanley Cup,” Castor stated Sunday.
Tampa is up in the series 3-1 and headed back to Amalie Arena. Lightning fans undoubtedly wanted the win, but many have expressed on Twitter that winning it all on home ice will be that much sweeter. There’s no harm in letting Montreal save a little face in their home rink by allowing them one lowly win. It’s not as if the Lightning can lose this series, right? No team in the Cup Final has lost a 3-0 series lead since the Detroit Red Wings did it in 1942, losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Habs faced the Leafs in the opening round, coming back to win the series after overcoming a 3-1 series deficit.
The Habs Know What it’s Like to Be Down 3-1 in a Series
Montreal had just come off a 4-0 beat down loss on home ice at the hands of the Maple Leafs at the Bell Center. Everyone in the NHL universe, except for a handful of slightly delusional diehards from Quebec, thought the Canadiens were done and dusted. After all, Toronto won the North division by a whopping 18 points over the Habs. During the final nine games of the regular season, the two teams faced each other four times. Montreal was able to win only one of those games, so after Game 4 ended, they were just 2-6 against the Leafs in just over a month.
Then came that faithful Game 5 at Scotiabank Center back in Toronto. The Canadiens were able to win that game 4-3 in overtime to stave off elimination. Even after the win, the series was still 3-2 in the Maple Leaf’s favor. Few people gave the Habs a chance to actually pull off the upset and topple Toronto, but topple them they did. Montreal came back from the brink and beat the Leafs in Game 7 and the rest is history, as they say.
So how did this happen? The Canadiens managed just three wins in the 10 regular-season games played against Toronto headed into the playoffs, yet managed to beat them four times to win the series. The Habs won Game 1 before dropping three games in a row to be down 3-1 going into Game 5. The exact spot they’re in right now. The only real difference is that Tampa won three in a row before they finally dropped one.
Toronto did lose cornerstone leader John Tavares after a freak hit to the head from Canadiens forward Corey Perry in Game 1. Tampa hasn’t lost anyone near as good as Tavares so far in this series. Aside from that and the obvious similarity of the uniforms, Tampa’s and Toronto’s first four series games against Montreal have played out fairly alike. The Maple Leafs captain was out, but they still managed the three straight wins and came agonizingly close to wrapping it up in Game 5.
Lightning Have Had Some Struggles at Home in These Playoffs
When the Leafs couldn’t finish off Montreal that night, it was the beginning of the end of Toronto’s Stanley Cup hopes. The Lightning cannot make the same mistake. The Leafs were guilty of taking the foot off the gas and it cost them dearly. Tampa has also been guilty of doing that at times during this year’s Cup run, especially in games played in Amalie Arena. The Bolts have mostly been clinical and precise on the road, but at home sometimes, they’ve been a bit lackadaisical and aloof.
If the Lightning does not come out in Game 5 ready to play their best game of the playoffs and actually lose the game, the results could be catastrophic. In two of the previous seven-game series the Bolts have been in, each time they played at home with a two-game lead in the series, they lost both times. Against the Florida Panthers, Tampa took the first two games only to give up six goals in Game 3 to lose it and let the Panthers right back in the series. Ok, lesson learned, or so you might think.
The very next series against the Central division champs, the Carolina Hurricanes, the Lightning did the very same thing. Tampa took both games on the road in Raleigh only to come home and lose a lackluster Game 3 at Amalie Arena. Obviously, the Bolts went on to win both series. The point is that each time Tampa started to feel just a little bit comfortable, they took the foot off the gas and lost a pivotal playoff game.
Tampa heads into Game 5 up two games over the Canadiens and playing on home ice. That scenario never happened against the New York Islanders because the Lightning never managed to gain any type of a cushion in that series. Each team only managed to be up one game on the other at different times over the full seven games. We’ve seen how the Habs have handled this exact type of situation, but we can’t know for sure if the Lightning learned anything from the previous two experiences. Either way, Tampa needs to put this team away ASAP.
Lightning Cannot Give Montreal Any Reason to Believe
No quarter whatsoever must be given to these Canadiens. If the Lightning somehow end up coming out flat as they did in Game 2, the unthinkable could actually be on the table. It’s true that no Cup Final team has lost a 3-0 series lead since 1942, but it has happened in earlier rounds of the playoffs, and very recently too.
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In 1975 the Islanders beat the Pittsburgh Penguins after losing the first three games in a quarterfinal series. It happened again in 2010, also in the quarterfinals, when the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Boston Bruins. And then once more, in the first round of the 2014 playoffs when the Los Angeles Kings beat the San Jose Sharks. So, yes, losing a series up 3-0 is absolutely improbable, but obviously not impossible.
The Lightning has shown the past two seasons that when they have a team down, they eventually close them out. They were up 3-1 to the Dallas Stars just last season and dropped Game 5 before winning Game 6. This Montreal team is a different animal, though. Resilient, times a thousand, is the best way to describe them and if Carey Price has a phenomenal game and steals one, look out.
Allowing them to gain momentum with two wins in a row could be a worst-case scenario for the Bolts. Once that ball gets rolling, it could be tough to stop. So let’s just avoid it altogether by taking care of business at Amalie Arena. The Lightning need to leave no shadow of a doubt of who the best team in the NHL is, being the better, more aggressive team during the entire sixty minutes. The good fans of Tampa missed out on seeing the Stanley Cup being carried around in their home rink a season ago due to COVID-19. It’s time for the Bolts to right that wrong with a resounding victory in Game 5.
Frank is a former competitive hockey player at the D3 college level. He’s what you’d call a hockey “lifer” having also worked as a hockey referee, time keeper and assistant youth coach, along with being a longtime member of USA Hockey. Frank comes to THW after contributing content on the Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Orlando Magic for BackSportsPage.com.