Hickey on Hockey: Habs should have edge on Lightning in playoffs

 

 
 
 
 
Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges, left, battles Lightning left wing Ryan Malone as referee Mike Leggo attempts to get out of the way during a game in Montreal last November.
 

Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges, left, battles Lightning left wing Ryan Malone as referee Mike Leggo attempts to get out of the way during a game in Montreal last November.

Photograph by: Dario Ayala, The Gazette

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MONTREAL — When goaltender Ben Bishop fell to the ice Tuesday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s playoff hopes might have gone down with him.

Tampa Bay will face the Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs — Game 1 is likely to be played Thursday at a site yet to be determined — and the 6-foot-7 Bishop will not be in the Lightning lineup.

Bishop suffered an upper-body injury — his agent says it’s an elbow — and the latest prognosis is that he will be out of action for three weeks, which is just enough time for the Canadiens to win the series.

The Lightning has gone through its share of adversity this season. It lost elite sniper Steven Stamkos for 45 games. There was internal strife when captain Martin St. Louis demanded a trade because he felt general manager Steve Yzerman didn’t support his selection to Canada’s Olympic team. There were also growing pains for a team that had six rookies play at least 40 games.

The one constant as the Lightning went from 14th overall in the Eastern Conference to the top four was Bishop. He set a franchise record with 37 wins and was among the league leaders in save percentage (.924), goals-against average (2.22) and shutouts (five).

He was particularly effective against the Canadiens. Tampa Bay won three of four games against Montreal and Bishop allowed only four goals. In his absence, the burden of stopping the Canadiens falls on Anders Lindback, who is 0-1 lifetime against the Canadiens. Lindback measures up to Bishop in stature — he’s 6-foot-6 — but not in performance. He has a 7-12-2 record, a 3.05 goals-against average and an .888 save percentage this season.

Here’s how the Canadiens and the Lightning shape up going into the first round:

Goaltending: With Bishop out, the edge goes to the Canadiens, although Carey Price — whose regular-season numbers are similar to Bishop’s — must prove that he can get the job done in the playoffs. Price has a 9-17 record in post-season play with a 2.90 goals-against average. Lindback is 2-0 since Bishop was injured, but it will be interesting to see if Lightning coach Jon Cooper is tempted to use American Hockey League call-up Kristers Gudlevskis. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, he’s the 21-year-old who made 55 saves for Latvia in a 2-1 loss to Canada at the Sochi Olympics.

Offence: Give the edge to the Lightning with Stamkos back in top form. The Lightning would be even more dangerous if St. Louis was still around, but Tampa has a tested playoff performer in Valteri Flippula and talented youngsters like Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Pointe Claire’s Alex Killorn. The addition of Thomas Vanek for the Canadiens has made Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais more dangerous, but the Canadiens are still in need of secondary scoring.

Defence: Statistically, the Canadiens have the edge, but for all the emphasis on puck possession and defence Montreal still allows far too many shots. The Canadiens have allowed 2,500 shots this season, which ranks 23rd in the league, and they have blocked a league-leading 1,478 shots. This is one area in which the Canadiens will have to tighten up. The best defence starts with the goalie, but both teams will be called on to help the man between the pipes.

Special teams: Neither team is a major threat on the power play, but the Canadiens have one of the best penalty-killing units in the National Hockey League. Newcomer Mike Weaver is a good addition to a unit that features such stalwarts as Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges.

Coaching: The Lightning turnaround this season has Cooper in the coach-of-the-year conversation, but the edge here goes to Michel Therrien, who has playoff experience in the NHL.

Intangibles: There was a lot of talk about the Canadiens wanting momentum as they head into the playoffs, but it’s not happening. The Lightning lost some valuable leadership when St. Louis was traded and the youthful Lightning might be a few years — and a healthy goaltender — away from being a Stanley Cup contender.

Prediction: Canadiens in six games.

phickey@montrealgazette.com

Twitter: zababes1

 
 
 
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Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges, left, battles Lightning left wing Ryan Malone as referee Mike Leggo attempts to get out of the way during a game in Montreal last November.
 

Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges, left, battles Lightning left wing Ryan Malone as referee Mike Leggo attempts to get out of the way during a game in Montreal last November.

Photograph by: Dario Ayala, The Gazette

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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