By Ian S. Palmer
The Montreal Canadiens will have the home ice advantage in their best-of-seven second round Eastern Conference playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Canadiens advanced to the second round by ousting the Ottawa Senators in six close games after taking a 3-0 series lead. The Lightning game back from a 3-2 deficit to eliminate the Detroit Red Wings in the full seven games. These two clubs met in last year’s playoffs with the Habs winning in four straight.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Montreal Canadiens NHL Playoff Preview – bet365 lists the Canadiens as the favorites to win this series at 20/23 with Tampa Bay at 20/21
Tampa Bay avenged their postseason defeat by dominating Montreal this year with a 5-0 record and outscoring them 21-8. The Lightning won all three contests at the Bell Centre in Montreal in 2014/15 and have topped the Habs there in five consecutive regular-season encounters. However, when the Canadiens swept the Lightning last year, Tampa was without their starting goalie Ben Bishop, who is healthy this time around and shut out Detroit in game seven.
Bishop beat Montreal all five times this season while Carey Price suffered all the losses for Montreal. Each team won 50 games this season and Tampa led the league in overall scoring. Each team also had 32 defeats, but Montreal took the higher seed because of fewer regulation losses with 110 points compared t Tampa’s 108. The only other playoff meeting between these two teams came back in 2003/04 when Tampa swept Montreal in four straight. The Lightning then went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Montreal’s biggest worry heading into the series is their lack of goal scoring. Centers Tomas Plekanec, Brian Flynn and Torrey Mitchell each had three points against Ottawa while wingers Max Pacioretty and Dale Weise managed to each chip in with a pair of goals. Tampa’s top goalscorer Steven Stamkos, who netted 43 in the regular season, didn’t hit the back of the net once against the Red Wings in their seven-game series, but Tyler Johnson made up for it with six goals.
Price and Bishop will be the starting goaltenders in the series with Montreal having the edge on paper. Price is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie and the Hart Trophy for its most valuable player. He posted a 1.94 GAA against the Senators in the first round with a shutout and .93.9 save percentage. He allowed 12 goals against in the six-game set with five of them coming in one outing. Price led the NHL in with 44 wins, a goals-against average of 1.96 and a save percentage of 93.3 this season. Bishop’s 2014/15 record was 40-13-5 with a 2.32 goals-against average to accompany his 91.6 save percentage. He comes out of the first round with a 1.87 GAA, a .92.2 save percentage, a shutout and an assist.