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Double Habs Blogs on Game 1. Andrew Saadalla and Brian Bannan

May 2, 2015, 2:22 PM ET [57 Comments]
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Near-Perfect Game, Flawed Result by Andrew Saadalla...

The Montreal Canadiens were very well prepared against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first game of the Eastern Conference semifinals. They outplayed, outhit, and outperformed the Lightning in nearly all aspects, and arguably played one of the most complete and near-perfect games of the season.

Nearly everyone contributed, from Devante Smith-Pelly’s 8 hits with only 10:09 of ice time, to Brendan Gallagher’s 9 shots and Max Pacioretty’s fluke of a goal. Only 4 players on the Habs’ roster did not register a hit, including Andrei Markov (who was not at his greatest once again), David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec and, having played a whopping 37:53 (6 minutes more than any other player), P.K. Subban. While Subban did notch an assist on Pacioretty’s goal and provided us with his usual dizzying and mesmerizing runs up and down the ice, I felt he was being awarded ice-time that he did not necessarily deserve. He took after his partner and mentor Markov, and did practically nothing to change the tone of this game.

One standout player did make a difference practically all by himself. At 6’7”, hulking Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop was absolutely spectacular in making 43 saves to close out the game in double-overtime. He kept his teammates in the game, and consistently provided them with highlight-reel saves that continuously shut down the Habs’ constant yet relatively conservative attack. The game played out much as expected, with both teams skating fast, hitting hard, and playing a puck-possession dump and chase style of hockey. To say that the game was not entertaining would be false, despite the final score of 2-1 in favor of Tampa Bay. While I felt that Montreal deserved to head into game 2 with a 1-0 series lead, Ben Bishop had his say on who would truly have home ice advantage moving forward.

Let’s be honest about the pink elephant in the room: the game-winning play that led to Nikita Kucherov beating Price low on the glove side in double overtime should have been whistled offside. There are no two ways about it. After watching and re-watching the highlights of the game, that was a missed call by the linesman, and I have to agree with Michel Therrien’s very evident frustration. He did not shy away from letting the media know how he really felt. Truth be told, the Habs did not deserve a similar fate, and will surely be out for revenge in the next game.

There are positives to take out of this game, and I doubt the Habs will hang their heads. I especially enjoyed watching the Pacioretty-Eller-Parenteau and Weise-Desharnais-Galchenyuk line combinations. They blew a few chances, as did Brandon Prust who somehow can’t find his finishing touch all playoffs, but overall played a counter-attack style of game that provides fans with an entertaining showdown between two fast-flying teams who deserve to be exactly where they are right now.

Carey Price was Carey Price- what else is new? I thought he was well-protected by his teammates, although the same cannot be said about a Ben Bishop who was constantly run over and even looked to have injured his left leg on a scrambling play. I will never condone the dirty style of hockey the Habs played, constantly slashing and spearing their opponents. At one point, Subban even grabbed Stamkos’ stick and threw it away. Despite this, I can’t deny that teams who win championships have a tendency to run over goalies and play undisciplined games.

Alex Galchenyuk continues to be snake bit, Smith-Pelly has not been the playoff performer he was touted as being, and only Torrey Mitchell finished the night with a -2 differential. These are issues that will need to be addressed moving forward, and do not get me started on what has become a running gag of a power play.

Even with the Habs beating the Sens in 6, Therrien felt it was necessary to shuffle all of his lines nonetheless, including on the powerplay. We often saw Jeff Petry and Subban working the blue line together, as well as Markov and Tom Gilbert. The problem is that the coaching staff somehow cannot acknowledge that teams are taking away the defensemen’s time and space, stopping them from taking the shots from the point that they’re used to taking. A major overhaul of the man-advantage strategies needs to occur. Period. If Therrien is such a gambler and risk-taker, he should have no problems putting out a lineup that will have us all scratching our heads (as usual). This is something that seems to work for him, so why not take another chance and roll the dice? If playing the puck from the point is failing, there’s nothing wrong with attempting to cycle the puck below the goal line and tiring out the 4 penalty killers. After all, the Habs can match the speed of the Bolts, and I can’t can name more than 2 other teams who could.

The vast majority of the Montreal fan base was hoping that the Canadiens would not face the Tampa Bay Lightning, especially considering their horrendous regular season record against the Bolts. Sure, this first game was decided by a single goal in double-overtime, and both teams went at it neck-and-neck. Rest assured, we’re in for what’s bound to be a long series that will provide us all with a great deal of entertainment. However, if the Habs do not learn to bury their chances and score when they’re absolutely supposed to, they can kiss the rest of their playoffs goodbye. The Bolts were tired, but they pride themselves on a very potent offense that will make the Bleu Blanc Rouge regret missing open nets.


More from Brian Bannan...
Overtime can be a cruel mistress. In the end, the cheers and whoops of a victorious Tampa Bay squad filled a packed, but deathly silent Bell Centre. Nikita Kucherov denied glory a period earlier, made no mistake as he buried a perfect wrister behind Carey Price. Moments earlier Dale Weise had a chance to reprise his role as an overtime hero. He pulled his shot wide. With these teams deadlocked at one goal a piece on a fresh sheet of ice to start their 5th period, the line between agony and ecstasy was razor thin.

The question entering game 1 was whether Montreal could hang with this fast and skilled Lightning squad. The answer was a resounding yes. Only some Ben Bishop heroics and some sweet post music saved Tampa from falling behind 2 or 3 goals in the first. After the first, both teams settled into an even battle with both tenders called upon to make excellent saves. This was fast, intense playoff hockey with every inch of the ice contested. These teams battled ferociously through two periods knowing that with these two netminders at the top of their games, it was probably only going to take one bounce to walk away with a win.

Tampa got that bounce off a pretty deflection from Tyler Johnson that sucked the soul out of the Bell Centre to start the third. While Montreal had carried much of the play, the Bolts got their break and seemed primed to cruise to a road victory. With less than six minutes remaining, Max Pacioretty ripped 30 foot wrister through Bishop’s glove to knot the affair. This was the first chink in Bishop’s armour. Montreal was able to produce heavy traffic in the Tampa crease all night long. Through all the mad scrambles, Bishop battled through a thicket of legs and bodies to thwart each Habs’ chance. Just as it seemed that Bishop was not going to be beaten, he let in the easiest one of all.

Onward to overtime, where the teams traded 30 second shifts and no one dared get caught on the wrong side of the puck. Montreal had long possession stretches in the Bolts end in the first overtime, but could not capitalize. Fans returning to their seats did not have to wait long for a resolution in the second OT. One missed clearing attempt, a slick pass and Tampa was able to draw first blood.

If you could script a game plan for Montreal, this was it. They shut down the Bolts attack all night long. Both the Stamkos line and the Triplets had their chances, but the Habs were able to keep them primarily in check. Therrien was content to roll his forward lines against these units. But every time either trio was on the ice they looked up to see two of Markov, Subban or Petry. The Habs outhit and outshot the Bolts and dominated Tampa in the faceoff circle. If there are any questions as to whether they can hold their own in the series, they were answered in game 1.

The problem is, they got the effort they needed plus a soft goal on Bishop and still were not able to take this one from a tired Tampa team. With the Habs coming off four days rest, the time was ripe to take the first one from a Lightning team playing its fourth game in 7 nights. The Lightning were game competitors, but this was clearly a chance to put them down one before they had a chance to settle into the series.

The Habs will now face yet another must win game. They have been resilient all season long and are faced with another occasion to rise to the challenge. They produced the effort they wanted in game 1 and were unlucky to not come away with a better result. That being said, there are no ties or moral victories in overtime. The Bolts were full value to come in and steal one in the Bell Centre while running on fumes.

This series is shaping up to be another war of attrition. Time and space are at a premium and bodies are being sacrificed to take a hit, to block a shot, to make a play. It is a 180 foot grind with two teams with the speed and depth to push the pace for a full 60 minutes and beyond. Can Montreal produce another solid effort and level this series at 1-1? Will Tampa find another gear as they get their rest and head home with a 2-0 stranglehold? The answers come Sunday.

Quick hits:
Please, I don’t want to hear any complaints about Greg Pateryn on the winning goal. Tough play, probably could have chipped it out, but credit to Fippula and Kucherov for making plays as well. There were more than a few who could have worn the goat horns on both teams last night. Such is playoff hockey. #64 will bounce back.
The Habs’ powerplay is horrendous. They cannot win a draw, cannot carry it in and cannot even get any pressure. Bueller? Bueller? Who is the PP tactician? Please have him report to the Bell Centre.
Tyler Johnson. He took 1 faceoff after a visit to the clinic in the 3rd. Bishop also took a zinger off his mask and was favouring his left leg at one point. Obviously, both will be in the line up. Will they be at 100%?
Galchenyuk took 3 penalties and had probably one of the worst nights of his young career. Yet there he was in overtime creating some chances. His coach stuck with him despite sending him to the 4th line for a spell. He needs to right his ship.
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