Lightning Have Proven to Be Playoffs Road Warriors

The Tampa Bay Lightning won Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, 3-1 over the Montreal Canadiens at Amalie Arena to take a 2-0 lead. The series now shifts to the Bell Center in Montreal for Games 3 and 4. The Bolts looked great in Game 1, coasting to a dominant and comprehensive 5-1 win. In the second game, Tampa looked tired and out of sorts for most of it. Had it not been for the exploits of all-world goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, the series might be tied at one game apiece. For the Habs, winning one of the first two games may have been their best chance to stay in the series.

Based on how well the Lightning has played on the road in these playoffs, Montreal knows they’re really up against it now. They played a near-perfect hockey game save for just a couple of mistakes that Tampa made them pay dearly for. The Bolts were outshot 42-23 and out-chanced around 75-3. That’s obviously exaggerating things, but not by a whole lot. The Canadiens swarmed Vasilevskiy with odd-man rushes, breakaways, net-front traffic, you name it, they did it. 

Tampa Bay Lightning Andrei Vasilevskiy
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Chris O’Meara)

Alas, almost everything they’ve tried to do to score has been met by a blue and white brick wall from Russia. The only two occasions the Habs put pucks behind Vasy were on a double deflection and a seeing-eye dribbler that seemed to handcuff him a bit. Other than that, he’s been up to the task against everything else the Canadiens has thrown at him. 

This is a new obstacle to overcome for the Habs. For the first time this postseason, Carey Price isn’t the best man between the pipes in a series involving Montreal. It’s also the first time they’re facing a team that has a proven championship pedigree like the Lightning. On paper, the three previous opponents of the Canadiens were all better than they were, but none of them have been in the deep water Tampa has in recent years. The Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, and Vegas Golden Knights all cracked under the tenaciousness that Montreal has played with all playoffs. Don’t expect the Bolts to follow suit.

Lightning Know What it Takes to Win in Another Team’s Building

You should also get comfortable with the idea of the Lightning winning both games at the Bell Center. Tampa has already scored numerous impressive road wins in much harsher environments than the one they’ll face in the next two games. In their first-round series, Tampa was able to take the first two games in Sunrise against the Florida Panthers. Yes, the Panthers are not really known for their home-ice advantage, but anyone who watched the series saw how loud the Panther crowd was. Not to mention, the capacity was over three and a half times that of what will be allowed in Montreal. 

In the second round, the Lightning had to deal with the boisterous “Caniacs” when they faced the Carolina Hurricanes. The Canes were also the Central Division champs who matched up well with Tampa all season long. Nonetheless, the Bolts took Games 1 and 2 on the road just like they did against the Panthers. Both contests were tight one-goal affairs in front of a crowd that was near capacity. In Game 5, Tampa again went into Raleigh and closed out the series with a solid 2-0 victory. 

Tampa Bay Lightning Andrei Vasilevskiy New York Islanders Casey Cizikas
Tampa Bay Lightning Andrei Vasilevskiy watches as New York Islanders’ Casey Cizikas scores. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Then came the vaunted New York Islanders in the third round. It was these same Isles that Tampa took out in last year’s Eastern Conference Final over the course of six hard-fought contests. The Lightning split the first two at home before going into the Nassau County Coliseum on Long Island to take Game 3. Another road wins, and another series lead. However, New York was more difficult to beat on the road and defended their home ice in Games 4 and 6. This time around, they were able to push the series to seven games before finally bowing out to the Bolts. 

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Tampa has been able to win tough road games against all three teams in challenging environments. The Islander faithful was deafening for almost every minute played in the old Coliseum. After sending the Boston Bruins home in the second round, Bruins players commented on how disruptive the fans were and how loud it was. You could say almost the same thing for the crowds in Sunrise and Raleigh. With all due respect to the great fans in Montreal, you won’t be able to say the same thing about the 3,500 people that will “fill” the Bell Center. 

Canadiens Are the Worst Team the Lightning Have Faced in the Playoffs

It’s not just the crowds either. The Lightning opponents before the Cup Final were all better than this Habs team. Carolina finished the 2020-21 regular season third overall, Florida finished right behind them in fourth place. The Islanders finished 12 points ahead of Montreal before dispatching the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins. Both the Pens and the B’s have won at least one Cup and had multiple Final appearances over the last decade. The Islanders themselves have made it to the third round of the playoffs two years in a row.

Max Pacioretty Vegas Golden Knights Shea Weber Montreal Canadiens
Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights and Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens, NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Semifinals game 6, June 24, 2021 (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Of the teams the Habs had faced en route to the Final, only Vegas had made it to the third round in recent years. It was an incredible accomplishment for the Canadiens, beating the Golden Knights in six games, no question about it. On home ice, however, Montreal has had its issues. Vegas came a hair away from taking two of the three games played at the Bell Center. The Knights won Game 4 and almost did it again in Game 6, barely losing in OT to drop the series. Two rounds earlier in the first-round series against Toronto, Montreal dropped Games 3 and 4 at home. The Leafs won Game 4, blanking the Habs 4-0, to take a commanding 3-1 series lead before completely imploding. 

The Lightning will not go down the same road. They’ve proven time and again over the past two seasons that when they have a team down, they keep them down. The Bolts head north with a .666 winning % on the road these playoffs. The Habs are just one game over .500 at home with a record of 5-4. When you do the math, it points to Tampa taking at least one of the two games up in Montreal. Do not be surprised if Tampa wins them both to sweep the series and become just the third NHL franchise to go back-to-back in the last 33 years.

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