Daniel Briere set up Dale Weise for the game winning goal at 18:08 of the first overtime period as the Canadiens won the opening game of their Stanley Cup playoff series against the Tampa Lightning 5-4 Wednesday night. It was a sloppily played game, especially on the part of the Canadiens who barely survived despite outshooting the Lightning 44-25. Tomas Plekanec, Brian Gionta, Lars Eller and Thomas Vanek also scored for the Canadiens. The Gionta goal came while the Canadiens were killing a penalty. Steven Stamkos scored twice for the Lightning. Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn scored the others. Shots on goal in the overtime were even at nine after the Canadiens had outshot Tampa 35-16 through in regulation time. The RDS three stars were Weise, Stamkos and Gionta. CBC had Plekanec as the third star.
Adding It Up -
What Did It Mean – The Canadiens and Lightning fought tooth and nail down the stretch to take home ice in the opening round of the playoffs. The Lightning won by a point and then lost it in the first game and at least until Sunday, the Canadiens will own home ice. Not that won’t be important around the seventh game, if we get that far, but there are those who will argue that home ice advantage is becoming less and less meaningful in today’s NHL.
Where to Start? – This was a game that had two facets. On one side there was as a complete performance from all four forward units. At the same time, the Canadiens defense had a terrible night with giveaways accounting for three of the four Tampa goals including the Mike Weaver blunder that led to the tieing goal by Stamkos that forced the overtime.
Dominoes - Brandon Prust‘s return to the lineup changed the complete makup of the Canadiens forward lines outside of the Desharnais unit. Prust was put on the Plekanec line with Gallagher. Bourque played with Eller and Gionta and Daniel Briere in turn was allowed to got back to his natural centre ice position on the fourth line with Weise and Bournival. All four lines scored in the game.
Money Man – You could be forgiven for thinking that all of that talk about Daniel Briere‘s playoff prowess was merely “hype” at this stage of the season. The doubters have been quietened, at least for now. Briere won the battle behind the net to set up the game winner, but he, along with linemates Weise and Bournival were winning those battles all night. They were rewarded with abnormally high fourth line ice time, had six shots on goal while fulfilling their assigned shutdown role.
The Way He Likes It – This was a bang and crash kind of game, and Lars Eller seems to love playing that way. His line accounted for half of the goals in regulation time. The Canadiens were down 2-1 and killing a penalty when Eller chipped the puck past the Tampa defense and sent Gionta in alone to tie it. Early in the third period the Canadiens got their first lead in the game when Eller got it from Gionta and burst around the defense to score with Bourque right there looking for the rebound. Only Markov recorded more hits than Eller’s four in the game. Gionta and Eller with a goal and assist each.
Ready to Break Loose – The Desharnais line accounted for one goal. It could have been three or four. Vanek fought of a check on a give and go from Deharnais to score the line’s goal but the line had the puck all night. A total of 17 shots on goal and eight scoring chances by the trio, seven shots by Vanek and six more by Desharnais.
Unreliable – When does “high risk, high reward” become too-high risk for the reward? We were in that category with P.K. Subban in this game. Subban was in trouble the entire night. He wasn’t alone in that regard, just more noticable. Only telling a small part of his night was the minus-two rating rating through regulation time. On at least three occasions, defense partner Josh Gorges bailed him out of potential Subban-created disasters. It’s likely going to be a long series. Subban has to be and odds-are will be better. For that matter, so does the normally reliable Mike Weaver, who had an equally difficult time.
Price’s Night - Carey Price hardly had any work in regulation time, but the work he was presented with was really hard. If you want to be critical, you might want to take a second look at the Lightning second goal, but that was Stamkos and managed to beat two checks in his end to end rush. The other three goals came off clean looks preceded by giveaways. Tampa’s shots on goal by period were 4-7-5. In the overtime with the chips down, Price stopped all nine Lightning shots including one on Alex Killorn that saved the win.
Unsung – You look at the scoresheet and you see a minus-2 next to Tomas Plekanec‘s name. But in his body of work was that crowd silencing sharpshooter goal only 19 seconds after Nikita Kucherov had got them going with opening goal of the game. And then, only minute after Stamkos had made it 2-0, Plekanec beat Lindback again on a breakaway, but hit the post. Four shots on goal for Plekanec.
Also Worth Mentioning - ….I have no idea what the Canadiens can do with their pathetic-looking power play. If anything, it seems to be getting worse. 0-for-2 in this game. Against Tampa this year they are 0 for 19 in five games and 0-for 25 in the last nine games overall. ……I never stop admiring Brendan Gallagher‘s grit. He blocked a deflected shot in the throat midway through the second period and left for the dressing room. He didn’t miss a shift and continued his no-quarter-asked style the rest of the game. ….Not a very good night in the faceoff circle. Only 42 percent. Desharnais was 3 for 14. ……As they so often are against a bigger team, the Canadiens were outhit . 40-27 in this game. We’ve learned the statistic doesn’t mean much when it comes to the Canadiens. Subban led the Canadiens with 5 hits followed by Bourque with 4. Gudas had 9 for the Lightning.
Moving On – The teams will meet again Friday night in St. Petersburg. Don’t expect anything quite as uncontrolled as this game was. There were nine goals scored in this game. The previous four meetings between the teams amassed a total of eleven. Call it opening night jitters. Exciting hockey for us, but neither coach wants to see any more of it. If somehow the Lightning lose, we may see a short series even though the Lightning won both games this season at the Bell Centre.