The general consensus is the Montreal Canadiens are playing with house money. If the metaphor tracks, that would make the Tampa Bay Lightning the house in question, coincidentally with the Habs’ fate ultimately depending on their ability to perform on Lightning home ice. Unfortunately, history isn’t on their side.
Canadiens Struggle Against Lightning in Tampa
The Canadiens haven’t won at Amalie Arena since April 2017, a 2-1 overtime win for the record, going 0-5-1 on the road during the regular season after that point up to now. Granted, the Canadiens’ struggles against the Lightning aren’t limited to the road. Overall, not including that road victory in April 2017, the Canadiens are 2-9-2 in the regular season with a single non-shootout win over the Lightning.
In fact, up until their win against the Lightning in Game 4, the Canadiens hadn’t beaten the Lightning since their last meeting of 2018-19, the only time the Canadiens won that season. Considering the Lightning won the 2019 Presidents’ Trophy and how they’ve been an elite team for the last half-decade give or take, the Canadiens can find solace in how they’re not alone in having been dominated by the Lightning over the last few seasons.
However, the time for moral victories is over. After staving off elimination at the Bell Centre thanks to Josh Anderson’s two-goal performance, there is no additional consolation prize. They have two options: Leave it all out on the ice with every intention of winning Game 5 to make this a series with a quasi-realistic shot at coming back to win it all… or don’t and die. Considering the circumstances surrounding the Habs’ first win of the series to cut the deficit to 3-1, it’s clear where their heart is and oh, is it pumping now.
Admittedly, following a slow start to Game 4, in which the Canadiens were outshot 8-0 early on, it’s almost as if they needed an excuse to fight. Anderson got the all-important first goal, to give them that reason, with the Canadiens’ play picking up at around that point.
“That’s part of the challenge that we needed to face, just settling in, getting into that game and it took a little bit of time,” said head coach Dominique Ducharme after the game, giving credit to goalie Carey Price for buying the Habs’ that time.
Lightning Show Resilience but Not as Much as Habs
Including Anderson’s game-opening goal, twice the Canadiens pulled ahead in Game 4, only to have the Lightning tie it. Whereas the Lightning showed their resilience in so doing, the Canadiens did to a larger extent considering the 3-0 mountain to climb in front of them. The Canadiens are undeniably professionals based on the work ethic they’ve displayed this run to the Stanley Cup Final, but they’re also people. Anyone in that position would have understandably been tempted to throw in the towel. It’s human nature.
When Shea Weber got called for a high-sticking double minor on Ondrej Palat with one minute left in the third and the score tied 2-2, it signaled the end was nigh. Photographers in the Bell Centre likely focused their cameras on and around Price, logically thinking the game-winning goal was coming, because at that point why should the Canadiens delay the inevitable?
All those photographers got were shots of clutch goaltending, though. Even worse, with the help of the Habs in front of him, Price made it all look easy, nary a highlight-reel save to end regulation or start overtime, cuing Anderson’s clutch game-winner at the other end of the ice soon after the penalty had expired.
“Obviously a huge kill from all the boys… It was definitely the biggest kill so far,” said Canadiens forward Phillip Danault with the penalty being the only one they’ve faced (or had called against the opposition) in overtime up to this point in the playoffs.
The Canadiens’ penalty kill has been a talking point these playoffs. It did its job again in Game 4 and has successfully killed 10 penalties in 12 opportunities against the Lightning’s goliath power play, which now sits at a paltry 33.9% (after it had been 37.7% heading into the series). Regardless, just like anything can and has happened these playoffs, with the Canadiens having gotten as far as they have, no one should assume their penalty kill will get them out of trouble, because any one penalty against can be the one that does them in, especially facing elimination as they will the rest of the series, however long that is.
It works both ways, though. Trends mean nothing. So, the fact the Canadiens now have to win two on the road in a building where the Lightning are 8-3 these playoffs and they themselves have had so little success in so long, to see this thing through? When the Lightning will bring their A game to try and close this out on home ice in front of their fans?
The Canadiens shouldn’t care about the circumstances. Ultimately, either they make history or they are history. That’s how they have to approach it, kind of like in Gattaca, when Ethan Hawke’s character reveals how he only outswam his genetically enhanced brother by never saving any energy for the trip back to the shore.
Something else in which the Canadiens can find solace? It’s only impossible until you succeed. The Lightning have been so good for so long, including against the Canadiens, but, to get to two, the Habs had to win one. Now that the Canadiens have won one this series, they can win two. The locale shouldn’t matter. It’s not about history, but the story they’re writing right now.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to cover the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.