The Bolts took three of four from the Habs with Montreal’s lone win occurring in the third game of this regular season series when the Canadiens skated to a 2-1 win over the Lightning in Tampa Bay. However, in their final meeting of the regular season it was the Lightning that secured a 3-1 victory on April 1st back again on their home ice which contributed mightily to their home ice advantage in this series.
Speaking of April 1st
There’s no better way to analyze this opening game of the series than studying the way their last meeting played out only two weeks ago. Brendan Gallagher struck first for the Canadiens midway through the first period when he redirected a rebound in the low slot past Lightning goalie Big Ben Bishop.
However that was to be the lone tally for the Habs as the Lightning took advantage of several man advantage opportunities throughout the game. Ryan Callahan delivered a power play goal to knot the contest in the second period but the game was still in doubt with Tampa Bay holding a narrow 21-20 edge in shots on goal heading into the third period.
The final frame was to be all Tampa Bay as Tyler Johnson made the most of a shorthanded breakaway opportunity and beat Canadiens netminder Carey Price to move the Lightning ahead 2-1. The Habs continued to draw penalties and it cost them again late in the third period when Tampa Bay pulled Price and were playing even instead of a man up due to the pulled goalie. It was then that Alex Killorn drilled the clinching third goal into an empty net. The Bolts outshot the Canadiens 12-6 in the final period and 33-26 in the game.
So What Have We Learned?
What we’ve learned is that there are no two teams more evenly matched than Montreal and Tampa Bay. Astoundingly, the first three games of this series were deadlocked at one goal apiece after three periods of play and all were decided by a 2-1 score in either overtime or by shootout. Their last game on April 1st was the only contest decided by two goals and that was due primarily to an undisciplined effort by Montreal which saw them get whistled for 26 penalty minutes versus only eight for Tampa Bay.
So we know this game isn’t a slam dunk for either side and neither is the series for that matter. When perusing your NHL odds there will no doubt be more appetizing selections for your NHL picks so don’t feel compelled to lay it in on this game. However, SBR’s reading audience is nothing if not risk takers so with that in mind I will give you my take on the outcome of this game.
There has been one groundbreaking development since last these teams met and that is the injury to 6’7” goalie giant Ben Bishop. Bishop is sidelined with a sore elbow (which at first blush doesn’t sound like the kind of injury that would preclude a hockey player from competing, but hey it’s not my elbow so how the hell would I know) and that immediately gives the Canadiens an advantage. The Lightning gave up about 30 shots per game but Big Ben was a brick wall holding down the fort and bailing his team out. Anders Lindback will now have to assume that role but don’t be surprised if that wall isn’t quite as solid.
Free NHL Pick
While Tampa Bay will enjoy their home ice advantage in this game I see Bishop’s absence as being the pink elephant in the room that I refuse to ignore. Expect Montreal to play smarter and more disciplined hockey than in their last meeting which will lead to a victory in Game 1.
NHL Pick: Montreal +105 at Bet365.com.