Game preview: MTL @ TBL
CANADIENS (43-26-7) vs. LIGHTNING (41-25-9)
On Tuesday, the Canadiens take on the Lightning in what could be a preview of the first playoff round.
If the postseason started today, the Atlantic Division-second place Habs and the third place Lightning would be facing one another in the first round. Montreal current leads Tampa 93-91 in the point column. With lower-ranked teams unlikely to catch the pair, Montreal and Tampa Bay are now effectively playing for home-ice advantage in their playoff matchup.
The Habs, winner of five straight games to close out of the month of March, last took to the ice on Saturday against the Florida Panthers. The top line of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Thomas Vanek once against came up big, contributing all four goals in a 4-1 victory. Brad Boyes was the only Panther to beat Carey Price, who stopped 36 pucks for the win.
Meanwhile, the Lightning is coming off a 3-2 loss suffered at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday afternoon. Valtteri Filppula opened the scoring with an unassisted goal and Sami Salo made it a one-goal game late in the third, but Tampa could not find the equalizer. Ben Bishop made 27 saves on 30 shots against.
The departed Martin St. Louis still leads coach Jon Cooper’s team with 61 points in 62 games played before being traded to the New York Rangers. Ryan Callahan, the player who came back the other way in the trade, has nine points in 13 games following the trade deadline while averaging over 20 minutes in ice time in all situations. Beyond Callahan and the superlative Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay can also count on the offensive production of dynamic young guns Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson. The Sunshine State’s answers to Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher have 51 and 47 points respectively on the season.
Ben Bishop, Tampa’s extra-large goaltender, is enjoying an excellent season in the Lightning’s crease, going 36-12-7 with a sparkling .926 saves percentage. He’ll be leaned on heavily from here on in, as backup Anders Lindback is only 5-12-2 with a sub-par .878 save percentage.
With the return of Steven Stamkos from a broken leg following the Olympics, the Lightning has a full bench. Only Brian Lee and Mattias Ohlund, neither of whom has played a single game in 2013-14 due to pre-season injuries, are out for the home team.
Tuesday’s game will be the fourth regular season match-ups between Montreal and Tampa Bay. Lars Eller scored the shootout winner for the Habs on December 28 2013 in a 2-1 decision. Carey Price has been dynamite against the Lightning, allowing just four goals on 105 shots faced this season.