Hot Habs battle lunch bucket Bolts in playoff preview
by Kristian Gravenor, CTV Montreal
Published Tuesday, April 1, 2014 6:17PM EDT
The red-hot Montreal Canadiens (43-26-7) visit a tough Tampa Bay Lightning team (41-25-9) Tuesday evening at 7:30 p.m., in a game that is sure to be a telling preview of a likely first round playoff series between the teams.
The well-rested and likely well-tanned Habs, who last played in Sunrise on Saturday, have won five straight, largely thanks to a smoking hot trio of David Desharnais, Mike Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek.
Habs shooters will have their hands full against Ben Bishop, a netminder who has ceded only three goals on 78 shots in his three games against the Habs this season.
Bishop, who was acquired one year ago from the Ottawa Senators for Cory Conacher (later released) and a fourth round pick, is tied for fourth in the league with a .926 save percentage. (The Canadiens' Carey Price has an almost identical .925 save percentage).
Tampa, under first year coach Jon Cooper, has transformed its image into a big-star, small-performance team into a hardworking bunch of overperforming underdogs.
The Lightning hold a 2-1 lead over Montreal in a season series that has seen all games won in overtime or shootout 2-1 by the visitors.
The Bolts won in a shootout in Montreal on November 12, taking a 2-1 decision. Montreal got some revenge 16 days later in Tampa, winning by the same score, also in a shootout. And on February 1 the Lightning won in Montreal 2-1 once again, a game which saw Nate Thompson score two of his nine goals on the season.
This season unde Cooper, Tampa's big-name team DNA has been switched for a bunch of overlooked players, low draft choices who graduated through the minors.
Some examples: rookie Ondrej Palat, 23, chosen 208th in the 2008 NHL after two years in Drummondville has 51 points in 75 games. Valtteri Filppula, chosen 95th overall has 57 points in 70 games.
Alex Killorn, who played in the West Island Lac St. Louis Lions and was chosen 77th overall in 2007 has an excellent 39 points in 75 games in his second year on the team. Tyler Johnson, 23, who went undrafted, has 47 points in 75 games.
And large-sized defenceman Victor Hedman, who was the first overall draft choice in 2009 and was snubbed for the Swedish Olympic team in Sochi, has enjoyed his best in the league, with 47 points in 68 games.
Longtime Tampa star Martin St. Louis, who remains goalless in 14 games since being traded to New York, does not appear to be missed, as the player they received in return, Ryan Callahan, has been a pleasant surprise with nine points in 13 games for the Bolts.
The Canadiens will be facing Steven Stamkos for the first time this season, as the prolific sniper missed the three previous games due to injury.
The Canadiens lead Tampa by two points but the Bolts hold a game in hand. The teams are jockeying for home ice advantage for their likely first round series.