Not for a knee injury to goaltender Carey Price
during last year’s playoff run, the Montreal Canadiens may have found
themselves in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Los Angeles Kings. Despite the
fact that’s not how things played out, the Habs came into this season with high
hopes of surpassing last year’s results in competing for hockey’s ultimate prize
this time around. While the team may have been dying a rematch with the New
York Rangers in the Conference Finals, the present order of business is to take
care of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round.
If Montreal was taking Tampa Bay lightly, they
now have cause for concern as the Lightning are now taking the series back to
the state of Florida with a 2-0 lead, handily winning both games at the Bell
Centre. To make matters worse, the team’s superstar Steven Stamkos appears to
have finally awoken from his slumber. The sniper finally scored his first goal
of the playoffs on Sunday night, forcing the Habs’ Hart Trophy candidate to do
the splits in the crease to no avail as Stamkos deked around him and slid the
puck in the net.
And yet as much as experts around the NHL
would gladly contend that Stamkos should be Montreal’s number one concern
defensively throughout the series given the fact that a player of his caliber
is bound to breakout sooner or later, it’s not Stamkos leading the charge early
in the series for Tampa Bay.
Thus far it’s actually been Tyler
Johnson and Nikita Kucherov who have caused the most damage. Kucherov scored
twice in the team’s Game 2 win on Sunday, and Johnson leads the team in scoring
in these playoffs with 7 goals and 3 assists. That’s 10 points in 8 games, and
a lot of those points have come in key situations that led the team to victory,
as is usually the case when it comes to offensive production in the postseason.
Add to Tampa’s scoring a solid and
healthy Ben Bishop in goal, and Montreal’s Brandon Prust publicly calling out
the refereeing after Game 2, which will surely give the team trouble as the
series moves forward and it appears there’s no stopping the Tampa Bay
Lightning. That’s especially true considering the Lightning won every single
game of the regular season series between the two clubs as well.
The question now is not only whether Montreal
can make a comeback in the series and keep it respectable, but whether the
Tampa Bay Lightning actually have a realistic shot at sweeping the Habs.
Conventional wisdom might say no just because Montreal is one of the top
contenders for the Stanley Cup this year, but it appears that the Lightning are
the hottest team in hockey outside of the Anaheim Ducks and no matter who has
home ice advantage in the series, at the end of the day, it’s about who is
playing better in the moment. And the Tampa Bay Lightning are definitely
playing better right now.
question, the end result of Game 3, scheduled for Wednesday in Tampa Bay will go
a long way towards determining whether or not the Lightning can indeed achieve
the improbable and sweep Montreal, not only from a practical standpoint given
that they would obviously need a 3-0 lead to put themselves in position to
sweep, but also from a morale of standpoint. A win on Wednesday gives the
Lightning an opportunity to strike fear in all of the remaining teams in the
playoffs and continue to build their confidence as they pursue bringing the
Stanley Cup back to Tampa Bay for the first time since the franchise won its
first ever title back in 2004 over the Calgary Flames.
Whether or not Tampa Bay wins four games in a
row however, it’s obvious the franchise is a force to be reckoned with and
that’s a scary thought given that the team’ leading scorer just now decided to
show up to the party, a party that could have the state of Florida preparing
for a Stanley Cup parade by the middle of next month.
Labels: Jack Choros