Five Keys to the Game: Habs-Lightning #1
The Centennial Club: To be the best, you need to beat the best. If you have any hope of hoisting the Stanley Cup come June, the chances that you’ll have to battle teams that registered solid regular season records – that is, squads that have amassed 100 points or more in the standings – are quite good. Tampa Bay certainly fits that mold. That being said, the playoff series against the Lightning marks the 30th time the Canadiens will have battled an opponent of that calibre, a league record. It’s also worth noting, however, that the Habs hold the distinction of being the team that has eliminated clubs who’ve racked up at least 100 points during the regular season on 16 of 29 occasions. Is it an easy task, you ask? Check with the St. Louis Blues who’ve only managed to pull off the feat twice in 15 opportunities, or even the Vancouver Canucks, who’ve done it just three times in 18 opportunities. For their part, the Lightning are 3-for-8 in that department.
Beginning anew: It’s safe to say the playoffs are a whole new ball game for those teams fortunate enough to qualify for springtime’s toughest tournament. The regular season is a thing of the past and win-loss records are meaningless. Since 1998, the Canadiens have played 14 playoff rounds. On two of five occasions, the bleu-blanc-rouge downed a playoff opponent against whom they’d won the annual season series. The Habs hold a similar record against a playoff opponent against whom they’d split the season series and/or lost out to during the regular season. Interestingly enough, the Lightning won three of four meetings with the Canadiens during the 2013-14 campaign…
Home-ice advantage?: Since the Canadiens’ last Stanley Cup triumph, the Habs have started their postseason runs on opposition ice 10 times. Try as they might, road team crowds haven’t gotten the best of the bleu-blanc-rouge at the outset of a series away from the friendly confines of home. The Canadiens have downed their opponents six out of 10 times in the series-opener, taking home-ice advantage right back in short order.
My kind of town: Montreal’s playoff atmosphere is unique, so much so that you’d be hard-pressed to find something similar anywhere else in the league. Among the Canadiens players who will go up against the Lightning, six have played 30 or more games in bleu-blanc-rouge during the playoffs, including Andrei Markov, Tomas Plekanec, Josh Gorges, Travis Moen, Francis Bouillon and Carey Price. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Tampa Bay’s roster. No player on head coach Jon Cooper’s squad has suited up for more than 30 playoff games in a Lightning uniform.
The one and only: Let’s finish things off with some trivia. How many players in NHL history have played more than 100 playoff games and managed to average at least one point per game? And, among players in that particular group, who is the only active NHLer? If you came up with Habs forward, Daniel Briere, then you know full well that the Canadiens’ No. 48 has a reputation for lighting the lamp when the stakes are at their highest. In 108 career postseason appearances, Briere has registered 50 goals and 109 points.