32 plays

Extra Shift: Montreal Canadiens 4, Lightning 3 – Game Four

Pushing back against adversity.  That was, more than anything else, the overriding theme to this Lightning season.  And again that’s what we saw in the third period of Game Four.  Down 3-1 entering the third, the Lightning didn’t go quietly into the night.  They netted a couple of goals to tie the score and then, in the final 13 minutes of the frame, went toe-to-toe with the Canadiens.  There’s no sugarcoating the fact that losing stinks – and it’s tough pill to swallow when you allow a power play goal in the final minute, a power play goal that ends your season – but the Lightning, true to form, showed tremendous heart in their final period of the season.

It’s possible that this game might have unfolded differently.  But during the first two periods, every time the Canadiens needed a big play, they got one.  At the very beginning of the game, I thought the Habs looked somewhat tentative and the Bolts had a couple of good shifts, including a chance off the rush for Steven Stamkos.  But just over two minutes into the game, the Lightning committed a defensive zone error and Danny Briere was left alone in front.  For the second straight game, the Habs had an early lead.  As they did throughout the series, the Habs feasted on neutral zone turnovers – another Lightning miscue led to Lars Eller’s two-on-one goal late in the frame.

Brendan Gallagher provided the Canadiens with another big goal when he answered Ondrej Palat’s second period shorthanded tally.  It came 70 seconds after the Lightning had cut the deficit to 2-1 and reestablished a two-goal Montreal lead.

On the Lightning side, the Bolts were generating some decent looks in the offensive zone in the first two periods, but they were just couldn’t finish those opportunities.  Pucks bobbled off sticks. Open players didn’t cleanly handle passes.  Sometimes, it was just due to bad luck.  Late in the second period, Steven Stamkos was wide open in front and accepted a pass from Palat.  But his stick broke on the shot and the puck slid harmlessly wide.  Through 40 minutes, the Bolts had only 13 shots on goal, but 32 others were either blocked or missed the net.

Then, down to their final period and trailing by two, the Lightning rallied.  They pushed the pace from the onset and Ryan Callahan nearly scored on the opening shift.  They followed that play with several good scoring chances and finally received some puck luck when Victor Hedman banked a shot off Carey Price into the net at 3:29.  They tied it with 13:29 left.  Moments after Price robbed Tyler Johnson from point blank range, Johnson buried a cross-ice feed from J.T. Brown. 

The final 13 minutes were frenetic and intense, as both teams had chances to score.  Goalie Kristers Gudlevskis, who entered the game in relief of Anders Lindback after Gallagher’s goal, made a breakaway save on Gallagher halfway through the period.  The Lightning did well to get pucks to the net and nearly finished off some rebound chances, but couldn’t quite bury them.  Then, with just over two minutes left, at the end of a strong offensive zone shift, Cedric Paquette tripped Michael Bournival and the Canadiens received a power play.  Gudlevskis couldn’t quite squeeze his pads on Max Pacioretty’s redirction and the puck slid into the Lightning net with just 43 seconds left. 

On the one hand, it was a very disheartening way to lose a game – and a series.  I’m guessing many Lightning fans were upset that a penalty was called so late in regulation.  But Paquette did trip Bournival.  What’s a bit frustrating is that the officials let nearly everything else go in the game, including a clear goalie interference penalty not called on Rene Bourque earlier in the third period.  In fact, they let a lot go on both sides.  Just not that late trip.  

On the other hand, that goal wouldn’t have mattered if the Lightning hadn’t showed such mettle in the third.  They battled back from a two-goal deficit on the road in a hostile environment.  Rather than folding their tent, they gave themselves a chance to win the game.  Fans who have followed the team this year should not be surprised about the third period rally.  Their final period of the season was their best in the series.

I’ll have a column in the next few days with an overview of the season.  But here’s my take on the series.  The Canadiens deserved to win.  They played a sound, structured, defensively-tight series.  They repeatedly forced turnovers and counterattacked with speed.  They received big plays at key points in the series and those plays came from a variety of different skaters.  Congratulations to Montreal. 

For the Lightning, this series will be a learning experience.  13 different roster players made their NHL playoff debuts.  Game One, close as the score might have been, wasn’t evenly played.  The Habs looked like a playoff club – and the Lightning were not at that same level.  Slowly but surely, however, the Lightning got better as the series progressed.  It’s true that the Canadiens had the run of play for parts of Games Three and Four – their energetic crowd and early leads helped in that regard.  Hockey is a game of momentum and the Habs rode it for stretches in these last two games.  But it’s also true the Lightning played their best postseason hockey in Games Three and Four – they found ways to withstand and then push back against Montreal surges.  To a man, the Lightning players will be better for having gone through this series, short as it was.  I’m sure they are already thinking about getting back to the postseason next year, knowing they’ll use this experience to their advantage.

Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito): Pacioretty’s GWG.

Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):

  1. Brendan Gallagher – Canadiens. Goal. 
  2. Josh Gorges – Canadiens. Assist.
  3. Kristers Gudlevskis – Lightning. 16 saves on 17 shots in relief appearance.

Lightning Insider: Game 4 

Greetings from a wet and rainy Montreal as the Lightning prepare for Game 4 of their first round series against the Montreal Canadiens tonight.  For the first time this year Tampa Bay faces an actual “must win” game as they trail the best-of-seven series three games to none and must win tonight to force a Game 5 in Tampa on Thursday. 

This morning the Lightning to a man said they must focus on this game only and not look ahead.  The good news is after the first 10 minutes of the first period in Game 3 the Bolts played probably their best hockey of the series.  Tonight they will try and carry that momentum over from the drop of the puck.  

It appears the line-up will not change from last game. That means Sami Salo, who missed Game 3 with an upper body injury, will once again be out.  Anders Lindback came off the ice first and it look as though he’ll get the start.  No surprise there. Lindback played very well last game and gave the Lightning the chance to come back. 

Other big news from this morning was that Ben Bishop skated with the team for the first time since suffering the upper body injury.  Jon Cooper did confirm that there is no chance of him playing tonight, although he didn’t rule him out if Tampa Bay is able to extend the series.  Bishop said he felt good and that it was a big boost for him to be back on the ice with his teammates. 

The Lightning will stay in Montreal tonight and fly back to Tampa tomorrow.  The thought there is to let the players get a good night’s sleep instead of flying home after the game and not getting in until the early hours of the morning.   

TV: Sun Sports

Radio: AM 970 WFLA

For the Fans – Cooper told the media today that the players want to win tonight to make sure the home fans get another game at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.  If the Lightning were to win tonight Game 5 would be Thursday. 

Power Up – In two of the three games in the series to date the Canadiens have had more power plays than the Lightning.  Power plays were even at two in Game 1 but Montreal has had nine man advantages to Tampa Bay’s four in the two games since. Lucky for the Bolts, their PK units have been good, allowing just one power play goal.

278 plays

Extra Shift: Montreal Canadiens 3 Lightning 2 – Game Three

Because of the controversial disallowed Lightning goal, this one left a sour taste in the mouth of anyone associated with – or cheering for – the Lightning.  I’ll get to my take on that call and the officiating as a whole in a bit.  But first, a look at what was the Lightning’s best game so far in the series.

It may have been the Bolts’ best game so far in the series, but they only began to look like themselves in the final two periods.  The Canadiens dominated the opening frame.  Montreal scored 11 seconds in, benefitting from a fluky bouncing puck that skipped over Matt Carle’s stick and landed right on the tape of Rene Bourque.  He finished his shot, delighting the raucous Bell Centre crowd.  That early goal sparked the Habs, who controlled play for nearly all of the first.  After yielding that early goal, Anders Lindback made 12 saves in the frame, many of them spectacular.  He kept the deficit at 1-0.  As was the case in the second half of Game Two, the Bolts had trouble sustaining any pressure in the Montreal zone.

But in the second period, the Lightning finally started pushing back.  They were able to attack the Montreal zone with speed.  The Bolts had more offensive zone time, which kept the puck out of the Lightning’s end.  They tied the score with an Ondrej Palat power play goal.  The Bolts dictated play for a majority of the period, despite having to kill two penalties, and generated several dangerous scoring looks.  One of those, from Alex Killorn, immediately preceded the Ryan Callahan disallowed goal.  Credit P.K. Subban with a great play following Killorn’s shot, as he batted the puck out of the air as it was heading towards the net.  (Of course, moments later, Callahan put the puck in the net and the goal was disallowed).  Shortly thereafter, more adversity – and some bad luck.  The Lightning lost Stamkos when he was accidentally kneed in the head – fortunately, he was able to return for the third.  But a scrum after the Stamkos injury put the teams in a four-on-four – and late in the four-on-four, Subban darted behind the net with Palat defending.  Palat’s stick got stuck in the net and he toppled over.  That unlucky break left Brendan Gallagher open and he finished Subban’s pass to give the Habs a 2-1 lead.

The Lightning yielded a third goal early in the final period and trailed by two.  But unlike in Game Two, when they couldn’t penetrate Montreal’s trap after falling behind by two, they were able to keep applying pressure.  They sliced the deficit to one with under nine minutes left, as Matt Carle scored at the end of a good puck possession shift in the offensive zone.  They didn’t get another, however, although they had a good look to tie the game during a sixth-attacker situation.  With the puck loose in the low slot, no Lightning player could cleanly gain control for a shot.  The spirited comeback effort fell short.

Now to the disallowed goal.  Incredibly, it was the third goal the Lightning have scored against the Habs that has been disallowed this year.  All have been debatable.  The first happened on November 12, when Price skated outside his crease into Tyler Johnson as Radko Gudas fired a shot into the net.  The second was on April 1, when J.T. Brown was in the crease, but made no contact with Price as Teddy Purcell scored.  Then there was the call in Game Three.  After taking his shot from close range, Killorn went into the net.  As he tried to get out, Subban blocked his path.  When Subban finally moved out of the way, Killorn buttonhooked around the post.  Price, on his way back in the crease, initiated contact with Killorn.  With Killorn out of the crease and heading towards the corner, Price stumbled, tried to straighten, stumbled again, slid over to the middle of the crease, slipped on his side, stopped the Callahan shot, then knocked it in his own net.

Reaction from nearly everyone in the hockey world, (excluding those associated with the Canadiens, referee Francis Charron and former ref Kerry Fraser), seems to be universal: it was a bad call.  That’s because, in the spirit of play, Killorn had nothing to do with the puck going in.  He tried to get out of the net as quickly and unobtrusively as he could.  Price seemed to go out of his way to initiate contact.  And the goal was scored several seconds after contact was made (Killorn was standing in the corner when the puck went in).  Fraser, however, who gives his opinion on calls for TSN, backed Charron.  He cited the rule book, which states that, even if the goalie initiates contact in the crease, the goal can be disallowed.  I’m willing to concede that, according to that clause, the goal could have been disallowed in this circumstance – but only if Callahan’s shot had occurred right after the contact.  My problem with the call is that Price had time to recover and reset himself.  Is it Killorn’s fault that Price stumbled and bumbled his way across the crease after trying to get up?  Fraser himself tweeted that Price “knows this rule and works it to his advantage better than any goalie in the league”.  It certainly worked to his advantage in this game.

It was a significant call.  The Bolts could have been playing with the lead – and momentum.  They’ve only had two leads in the series and both were short-lived.  This one felt different – the Lightning were dictating play and should have been rewarded for it.  Instead, the goal was taken away and a few minutes later the Palat unlucky stumble led to Gallagher’s goal.

It was a tough night for the Bolts vis-à-vis the officials.  An apparent Stamkos breakaway was negated due to a questionable offside call.  They only received two power plays all game while the Habs got five.  And Jon Cooper noted that Price, twice after his team iced the puck and couldn’t change lines, suddenly had a skate issue that needed attention on the bench.  Both times, the officials allowed this delay.  The fact that the Lightning didn’t let the officiating affect their drive in the final two periods is commendable.

But now, there is no more margin for error.  And the tough circumstances in this game do not change the fact that the Canadiens again played very well in Game Three.  They’ve been excellent in this series and their standard didn’t drop in this one.  In fact, the Habs could have scored four or five goals in the first period alone.  They continued to throw a solid, structured defensive game at the Lightning. 

Here’s the silver lining, though.  The biggest difference in this contest and the first two games in the series was how the Lightning improved their play, at least in the last 40 minutes.  It’s taken some time, but the Bolts finally matched the Canadiens’ intensity level.  The Lightning showed quite a bit of pushback, too, undeterred by the events that didn’t go their way. 

On Tuesday, the Bolts will have to play this way for the full 60.  If they can do it, they’ll give themselves an excellent chance to extend the series and bring it back to Tampa on Thursday for a Game Five.

Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito): Callahan’s disallowed goal.

Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):

1.     Brendan Gallagher – Canadiens. Goal and assist.

2.     Tomas Plekanec – Canadiens. Goal.

3.     Steven Stamkos – Lightning. Two assists.

Lightning Insider: April 20, 2014

The Lightning’s first round series against the Montreal Canadiens shifts to the heart of Quebec tonight as the Bolts and Canadiens meet for Game 3 at the Bell Centre in downtown Montreal.  Tampa Bay trails the series two games to none and are still looking to find the game that propelled them to second place in the Atlantic Division during the regular season.  Steven Stamkos said this morning that the most disappointing thing so far in the series is that the Lightning have not played their game.  Hopefully they will be able to find it tonight to avoid going down 3-0.
Jon Cooper left a lot to the imagination this morning in regard to tonight’s line-up, not revealing any changes.  Anders Lindback came off first after the morning skate, but Cooper said the goaltender would be a game time decision as well.  Ondrej Palat, who missed Game 2 with an upper body injury, skated both yesterday and today and will also be a game time decision.  He said he feels good.  Palat has been a huge part of Tampa Bay’s success this season so hopefully he is ready to go.
Something struck me on the team charter yesterday from Tampa to Montreal.  There were a lot of career NHL goals on that plane, 2,992 to be exact. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Radio Color Commentator, Phil Esposito - 717
  • Vice President and General Manager, Steve Yzerman - 692
  • Vice President, Dave Andreychuk - 640
  • Assistant General Manager, Pat Verbeek - 522
  • Assistant Coach, Steve Thomas - 421 

That’s a pretty impressive group.
In what is a strange occurrence, the Lightning held a 10:30 a.m. morning skate today.  The 10:30 a.m. time slot is usually reserved for the home team, with the visitors skating at 11:30 a.m., but with the Canadiens practicing at their facility in Brossard, Quebec the Bolts elected to take the earlier time.  They are scheduled to practice tomorrow at the Bell Centre before Tuesday’s Game 4.
TV: Sun Sports
Radio: AM 970 WFLA
Salt in the Wound – Jon Cooper took what was a playful job at the Canadiens this morning when speaking with the media.  “It’s not like they’ve ever had a 2-0 lead heading home and blown it,” Cooper said, referring to the 2011 playoffs when Montreal took a 2-0 lead to Montreal against the Boston Bruins and ended up losing the series.  Boston went on to win the Stanley Cup, also defeating the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final.
Non-Believers – Cooper also pointed out this morning that before the series began they looked at somewhere near 40 media predictions.  Of those 40, only about five picked the Lightning to win.

44 plays

Extra Shift: Montreal Canadiens 4, Lightning 1 – Game Two

Hockey can be a funny game sometimes.  The Game Two score was more lopsided than the final in Game One, but the Lightning actually played a better game than they did on Wednesday.  But unlike in Game One, when both teams twice surrendered one-goal leads, the first two goals scored in this game were very significant.

The Lightning vowed to play more with the puck and limit their turnovers in Game Two.  For much of the first period, they did just that.  The Bolts had very good jump in the opening 15 minutes – it’s true that they did allow some dangerous chances (in particular, a Brian Gionta breakaway) – but they controlled the puck for the majority of that time.  Their momentum was slowed after Steven Stamkos was assessed a four-minute double minor for high-sticking, but they killed off both penalties (and were aided by Montreal’s too-many-men infraction during the four-minute kill) and entered the first intermission scoreless.

With their failed chance on the double-minor, Montreal was in an 0-27 rut on the power play, but the Habs broke the tie on an early second period power play chance.  The Lightning didn’t stop buzzing, though.  Shortly after falling behind, they had separate wide-open looks from Alex Killorn and Steven Stamkos.  Both players didn’t record a shot, though, as they tried to unsuccessfully outwait Carey Price.  Each time, the player stickhandled behind the net and no shot was recorded.  Later in that sequence, Killorn took a shot from the left circle and Tyler Johnson narrowly missed tucking in the rebound.  Having dodged those bullets, the Canadiens netted an important second goal when Rene Bourque split the Lightning defense and slid the puck past Anders Lindback, who missed on a poke-check attempt.  That goal, which came just past the halfway point of the second period, completely changed the dynamic of the game.  

From that point on, the Habs went into a tight, defensive lock-down mode.  The Lightning struggled to get pucks through the neutral zone and maintain possession in the offensive end.  Scoring chances were limited, although Price made a terrific save on Cedric Paquette late in the second to preserve the two-goal lead.  Credit Montreal for playing very well defensively in the second half of the game.  The Bolts, down by two goals entering the third, had to press.  The Habs were content to sit back and wait for turnovers. Two of those turnovers led to Montreal counterattack goals.  A late six-on-four power play goal from Teddy Purcell broke up Price’s shutout bid.

The second half of this game looked ugly for the Lightning.  But that’s how it can look when you fall behind by a couple of goals in the playoffs against a good, structured opponent.  When the game was scoreless – and even when it was only 1-0 – the Lightning had more time and space to make plays.  It’ll behoove them to play with the lead Sunday in Game Three.

The Habs came to Tampa talking about how starting on the road can involve less pressure than beginning at home.  They played two very good games to gain control of the series.  But now the pressure is on Montreal to keep it going.  Twice in the last eight years, Montreal has blown a first round series in which it won the first two on the road, most recently in 2011 against Boston.  The Montreal press will undoubtedly remind the players of those previous collapses – and it’ll be interesting to see how the Canadiens handle a 2-0 lead in front of their raucous fans.

Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito): Rene Bourque’s second period goal, giving Montreal a 2-0 lead.

Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito): 

  1. Rene Bourque – Canadiens. Two goals. 
  2.  P.K. Subban – Canadiens. Two assists
  3. Carey Price – Canadiens. 26 saves.