Who would have thought going into the 2014 NHL playoffs that the Montreal Canadiens would be the only team so far to win a game on the road? Well, that is the case. To begin the series, a strong first game for Montreal in which they really outshot Tampa. Montreal, by virtue of their 5-4 overtime win in game number one, has taken back home ice advantage in the series.
This is not to say that the Canadiens has nothing to work on. They had to work on committing fewer turn overs and Carey Price had to have a stronger game if they wanted their winning ways to continue. They playoffs have not been kind to the Montreal goalie so far in his career as this was to be Price’s 32nd playoff game and he has only won 10 of them.
Montreal coach Michel Therrien made no changes in his line-up from the first game. For the Lightning their regular season leading scorer Ondrej Palat would be out with an upper body injury suffered in the first game. Lightning coach John Cooper chose to dress 7 defencemen instead of replacing the forward. The massive 6’8” Andrej Sustr was inserted instead. Back-up Anders Lindback would start again in nets due to the upper body injury to number one goalie Ben Bishop.
You knew that Tampa was bound to come out gangbusters. As expected there was a fast tempo at the beginning of the game with Tampa having the run of play early on. Price was tested and was up to it. He already looked strong and had to be with the Lightning having 5 shots in the first 70 seconds.
Price’s counterpart in the net at the other end also looked sharp. Lindback made a big save early on off of Habs’ captain Brian Gionta. Gionta was set off on a breakaway and he deked to his backhand, but Lindback stayed with him and got his right pad on it. Late in the period he flashed his glove to stop a laser beam of a Max Pacioretty wrist shot that was targeted for the top corner. The strong play by the two goalies meant that the teams went into the 1st period break scoreless.
Montreal had created some havoc by continuing forechecking like they had in the first game. The bleu-blanc-rouge game plan was to have their third forward up high to pressure Tampa puck carriers at their own blueline. Montreal was not allowing Tampa to get out of their zone easily nor gain any speed on transition.
What has worried many Montreal fans for about a month now has been their ineptitude on the power play. The past couple of years their power play has been their marque de commerce with the 5-on-5 posing them problems. Suddenly this has flip flopped with the addition of Thomas Vanek at the trade deadline and the team scoring in bunches 5-on-5, but oddly their power play drying up completely. They were on a 0-for-27 on the power play. Finally it ended and the monkey was off their back.
At 2:28 of the 2nd period Tampa’s Richard Panik was assessed a hooking minor. It only took 6 seconds for Montreal to break their streak of ineptitude. It started with David Desharnais winning the face off back to P.K. Subban. Subban was patient and moved along the line until he found an unmarked Desharnais to the left of Lindback. A slap pass and a deflection up and over the shoulder of Lindback would give Montreal a lead which they would never relinquish.
For most of the regular season the fans’ biggest whipping boy was winger Rene Bourque. On most nights he looked like he could care less and gave no effort. He was in and out of the line-up as a healthy scratch towards the end of the season. The only reason he was in the line-up to start the playoffs was due to the injury to Alex Galchenyuk. Since he had been put on a line with another fan whipping boy, Lars Eller and Gionta Bourque had been playing better. Bourque took it to another level on this night and his line was the team’s best.
At 10:35 of the 2nd he doubled Montreal’s lead with a great individual effort. There was some luck involved in the beginning as Subban unwisely chose to clear it out of his end up the middle. The luck happened when the puck hopped over the Tampa player’s stick who was poised to intercept it. It landed on Vanek’s stick and he backhanded a no-look pass right onto the stick of an onrushing Bourque. The rest was all Bourque as he used his speed, balance and strength to go around the slower Sami Salo. Then there was a healthy dose of good hands and second effort that allowed him to one hand a shot past Lindback. This was the 4th career playoff goal for Bourque and it was this type of play that Montreal was looking for from him during the 82 regular season games.
Bourque was not the only Hab that was having an impact on the game. At the 15:29 mark of the 2nd period Price made a huge save with his left pad that he stretched out to its max to stop Cédric Paquette, who was set up by Teddy Purcell on the doorstep. Price moved from one side of the net to the other quickly after Purcell had deked Francis Bouillon out of his jock. After allowing 4 goals on the first 16 shots against, up to this point Price had stopped the next 28 straight. His positioning was perfect and he was challenging shooters.
During the regular season Montreal had never lost a game after leading after 2 periods. It wasn’t about to change here. Instead of taking their foot off the gas in the 3rd and just protecting the lead the Canadiens added to it. At 11:46 Brendan Gallagher scored a very Brendan Gallagher-like goal. This means he never gave up. Gallagher intercepted a Tampa pass just outside their blueline. His first shot was blocked by Matthew Carle with the second wrist shot beating Lindback on the short side. It was a shot that the Lightning goalie should have stopped.
Cooper pulled his starter after the 3rd goal and inserted 21-year-old Latvian, Kristers Gudlevskis. Fans of Team Canada would remember this young man as the goalie who almost derailed their gold medal at this year’s Olympics. Gudlevskis is the shortest of the Tampa goalies at a mere 6’4” (sarcasm).
After Gudlevskis having been in nets for less than 3 minutes Bourque scored his 2nd of the game. Steven Stamkos fell down at centre coughing up the puck and the turnover was collected by Bourque. He entered the Tampa zone with speed down the left side. His first shot was stopped by Gudlevskis, but trouble for the young goaltender started when he could not find the rebound. Bourque pounced on it and scored on a wrap around by banking it in off Gudlevskis’ leg.
The Habs were disciplined on this evening not getting too many penalties. The only bad one they took on the evening was to Eller late in the game. With him in the box with less than 3 minutes left and losing by 4 goals John Cooper took a page out of Patrick Roy’s book and pulled his goaltender early. 41 seconds into Eller’s penalty Purcell ruined Price’s bid at a shutout.
After that goal Cooper kept Gudlevskis out of the net going for a miracle. Therrien rewarded the strong play of Bourque by putting him out late in the game. Eller and Dale Weise tried on several occasions to set up Bourque for his hat trick goal to no success.
What stood out most was Montreal’s ability to completely shut down Tampa Bay offensively. It was mainly Tomas Plekanec’s line against Steven Stamkos’ and they did a fantastic job chipping in a goal (Gallagher’s) as well as rendering sniper Stamkos invisible. Plekanec’s line and all others were on or around the puck all night. It was an excellent defensive game for Montreal and when they slipped Price was there to bail them out.
Several things in the series have been advantage Montreal. So far Montreal has been exploiting the slow Eric Brewer and Salo. All four lines have been contributing and on this night 3 lines scored.
Montreal is now coming home for games 3 and 4 with a 2-0 lead in the series and the place is bound to go wild from the moment they step on the ice. What they have to remember is that they have gone up 2-0 in a couple of series recently (against Boston and Carolina), so nothing is assured yet.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees – Tim Peel and Chris Rooney
Linesmen – Scott Driscoll and Mark Shewchyk
-Goals: 2nd Period:
2:34: Montreal – (pp) David Desharnais assisted by P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty
10:35: Montreal – Rene Bourque assisted by Thomas Vanek and P.K. Subban
11:46: Montreal – Brendan Gallagher unassisted
14:39: Montreal – Rene Bourque assisted by Lars Eller
18:01: Tampa Bay – (pp) Teddy Purcell assisted by Victor Hedman and Valtteri Filppula
-Shots on Goal: Montreal – 26
Tampa Bay – 27
-3 Stars: 1) Rene Bourque
2) Carey Price
3) P.K. Subban
-Final Score: Montreal – 4
Tampa Bay – 1