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Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday Musings: Why The Habs Are Nearing A Sweep Of Tampa

Greetings Habs Addicts!

What a week for Les Habitants! The NHL playoffs began and the Habs went down to Tampa Bay to face the Lightning in the first round. Montreal struggled against Tampa this season, although they played four very close games. Tampa held the edge compiling a 3-0-1 record against the Habs. All but one of the games finished with 2-1 scores, the last game ended 3-1 as Tampa managed to add an empty-net goal. With home ice advantage, most hockey pundits were taking Tampa to move onto the second round.

Not. So. Fast.

Game One was absolutely dominated by the Habs. They out-worked, out chanced and drastically out-shot the Lightning. And after regulation, the score was tied 4-4. Carey Price allowed four goals on 16 shots, while Anders Lindback allowed four goals on 35 shots. In the case of Tampa's goals, it was quality over quantity as most of them came after bad turnovers by Habs defenders left him in a bad spot. Both teams fired nine shots on goal in the overtime, but the dominant team prevailed when Dale Weise fired home the game winner with just under two-minutes to go in the extra frame. Habs win 5-4 in overtime.

Dale Weise celebrates his OT winner with P.K. Subban.
Photo Credit: MontrealGazette.com

Everyone expected a stronger performance from Carey Price in Game Two. He was average at best in Game One before standing on his head in overtime. If Montreal came out with the same intensity, and Price was just slightly better, they should win easily. Game Two saw the Bolts come out strong early on, firing 11 shots on goal in the opening frame, five less than they managed all of Game One. Price stopped them all. The game remained scoreless after one period. In the second, David Desharnais got the Habs on the board before the much-maligned Rene Bourque tallied to give the Habs a comfortable 2-0 lead. In the third period, a terrible Tampa give-away landed on the stick of Brendan Gallagher and he made them pay. A few minutes later, Bourque tallied again to give Montreal a 4-0 lead. Tampa managed to get on the board with just under two minutes to go, with Teddy Purcell breaking the shutout bid. That was it for the Tampa offense. Price stopped 26 of 27 shots in a dominant 4-1 Habs victory. Montreal effectively took away home ice advantage by sweeping both games and headed home with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Game Three saw the series shift to Montreal. After an incredible opening ceremony, Rene Bourque took a feed from P.K. Subban immediately after the opening faceoff and darted behind the defense and roofed one on Anders Lindback. 1-0 Habs after only 11 seconds of play. The rejuvenated Bourque played another strong game, going hard into the corners and the net and winning battles for the puck. The Bourque the Habs thought they traded for has finally arrived the past couple of games. Sure the sample size is small, but his play is reminiscent of how he played in Calgary when he had back-to-back 20+ goal seasons. The second period saw a weak penalty call on Daniel Briere lead to the tying goal, but an Bobby Orr-esque rush around the offensive zone by P.K. Subban ultimately resulted in Brendan Gallagher scoring his second goal of the series to give the Habs the lead. Subban lifted fans out of their seat and demonstrated why he is one of the best puck movers in the game. And demonstrated why you can accept the mistakes he makes. Overall, Subban has been on fire this series and this first game in Montreal was P.K. at his finest. Tomas Plekanec scored early in the third period, what proved to be the game winning goal in a 3-2 Montreal victory. The Habs now lead the series 3-0. En feu!

Coming up this Tuesday, Game Four of the series will be played at the Bell Centre with Montreal looking to complete the sweep. No one expected Tampa Bay to be in this situation. While the matchups during the regular season were close and ultimately dominated by Tampa Bay, both of these squads have a vastly different look to them during this series. Most notably:

  • Montreal has an elite NHL playmaker and sniper in Thomas Vanek playing on a line with another elite sniper in 39-goal man Max Pacioretty. This top line has been on fire during the latter part of the season and makes Montreal a very dangerous - and balanced - offense. Vanek only played in only one previous matchup. 
  • Martin St. Louis is now a member of the New York Rangers, with Ryan Callahan playing for the Lightning. While Steven Stamkos is back in the line-up, his elite playmaking setup-man is no longer on the team. 
  • Ben Bishop led Tampa Bay all season long and is a dark-horse Vezina Trophy candidate this season. Bishop is out for this series and Anders Lindback has not been as strong in goal, nor was he at all this season. Lindback is a step down from what Bishop brings to the table for Tampa. 
There is no question that this Lightning squad is weaker than the one the Habs matched up with for most of the season. Injuries and personal issues have seen Bishop, Ondrej Palat, Ryan Malone, Sami Salo miss time. Trading Martin St. Louis - the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner - to the Rangers weakened the offense and has allowed teams to target Stamkos and let the rest of the roster try and beat them. While Ryan Callahan brings many leadership intangibles to the game along with grit, he's never scored 30 goals, nor posted more than 55 points in any regular season and he does not possess the on-ice vision and creativity that St. Louis brought to the lineup. The injury to Ben Bishop is far and away the deal-breaker for this playoff series. Montreal having to rely on Peter Budaj for this round would be competitive, but in worse shape than having All-World Carey Price in goal. You just simply don't replace someone of that talent level. 

This series is far from over but Montreal certainly has a stranglehold on it. Tampa made some lineup changes heading into Game Three to try and make themselves tougher, notably inserting tough-guy B.J. Crombeen along with the physical Tom Pyatt onto the fourth line while adding Mark Barberio on defense. While Tampa out-hit the Habs, they still had little answer for the skill that Montreal brought to the table. The rejuvenated Rene Bourque is making people forget about the lacklustre regular season he brought forward. P.K. Subban has been disciplined and setting up important goals and the Habs have received production from all four of their lines. Bourque (3), Plekanec (2), Gallagher (2), Desharnais (1), Vanek (1), Eller (1), Weise (1) and Gionta (1) have all scored during this series. Only Francis Bouillon, Andrei Markov and Michael Bournival have failed to record a point this round. Michel Therrien is confident in all four lines and this depth has allowed the Habs to remain fresh all game long. The way Montreal is distributing the puck and receiving production from all four lines, that should change next game.

Get the brooms out, Montreal. Let's sweep this!

 ---
Nick Malofy is a transplanted Montrealer, currently living in evil LeafLand. He is a contributor here at HabsAddict.com and give him a follow, as he can often be found rambling on Twitter.

Past Monday Musings 

2 comments:

Trust me I have the pulse on Big Bad Bully Boys aka Bruins and they are nervous about playing us. The fan base is all over me and I am not the most well liked guy amongst my peers and I am loving it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thanks! I think Prust coming back has made a big difference, as well, and even though Bournival hasn't scored, he and Eller have been playing well, too. A true team effort! Hopefully, Galchenyuk will be ready for next round, too.

In terms of goal, I think Budaj is far superior to the Bolts' backups, so I still think the Habs would get an edge in that department if both starters were not playing.

For the opening ceremony to Game 3, someone put it on YouTube, and you can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7DNau3UBqQ.

Go Habs!

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