Location: Tampa Bay
OT Win: 5-4
Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Lindback (L)
Habs goalscorers: Plekanec, Gionta, Eller, Vanek, Weise
Opposition goalscorers: Kucherov, Stamkos (2), Killorn
Despite the mountain of positive efforts at the Tampa end, this game lay on a knife's edge it's entire length. When the straw that was to break the camel's back was there for Tampa's taking, it was the beautiful return of our assistant captain, Josh Gorges, that kept the contest alive. No one designs a defensive play that way, but kudos for the remarkable effort from Gorges who was just refusing to give in to the gods of rough luck.
Thomas Vanek - Game PuckFolks, this is what playoff rentals are all about. For the price of a quarter of a big contract, the Habs can now boast one of the most lethal lines in the league and the best Habs top line since Kovalev was not a dirty word. Let's all admit that Vanek is better than we all thought. Capable of being the goalscorer, as he was last night, his standout moments came in all guises. I am particularly impressed at how he manipulates the defenders and space around him -- puck recovery is easier with him on the ice, and cycling leads places. The stats he can boast from this game are unreal. More than 90% of chances that took place while he was on were in the Tampa end, five were his own.
David DesharnaisIn last year's playoffs Desharnais was lost. After a game, I can tell that this opponent will suit him better. But it's more than a change of opponent, Desharnais has learned in a year how to shrug more smothering holds and play in the areas where he can be a strength. The addition of Vanek has given the crafty centre even more time and space, a lethal pill for opposition defences.
Tomas PlekanecThere were two sides of the Canadiens attack in Game 1. If Vanek and Desharnais helped the Habs by dominating the ice, the other lines gave the team a threat through their speed and opportunism. For my taste, Plekanec was the best of these poachers. His first goal was beautiful to rewatch, but sublime in its timing. A Tampa goal later, he very nearly repeated the trick. What's so important about this kind of play is the doubt it sows in the minds of Lightning players. Pinches will be less assertive, attacks more conservative when each player carries the worry of an explosive counter punch.
Josh GorgesA gamesave and a gamewinner, together with a strong body of work to go around it. One doesn't need a big imagination to see that this game would have been in Montreal if Gorges had never been injured. The team is better with him in the lineup. Subban is better. The forwards can be better.
PK SubbanI rarely agree with Glen Healy, and I doubt I've ever quoted the red-faced Leafs man before. But I have to credit him for the support he gave Subban in this one. "He is playing the game that is given to him" is what Healy said at one point mid way through the contest. This is Subban's under-recognized strength, his adaptability, his discipline and and his commitment to team result. This game had all that. While all players had a miscue here and there, Subban and his teammates must be lauded for the fact a team with Steven Stamkos and 101 regular season points was held to 16 shots over 60 minutes in their own building.I would say that Subban was key in this result. I particularly enjoyed his halting hits.
Carey PriceOK, so we've been away a long while, and I think we missed a lot of chances to praise Carey Price. We are traditionally very hard on Carey and my old self would have put Budaj into a dome with 4 goals allowed on 16 shots. But I won't today. Today, I want to recognize that even a guy was a bit off at times played a vital role when the second game began at around 10 pm. He had tough work to do with the game on the line and on the basis of that goes into the records as the dome goalie.
I will say that I now expect him to be better than this. This is what. a season of consistent performances has led me to. I don't think Carey is any longer the player that rides his own wave, rather, I think the win and a steady and focused approach to each game will give a reset button he can use to find his better stuff.
Boxscores with bite
Just a nod to any readers who find this. You are dedicated folk. As I am once again compelled to write, I hope you'll enjoy the reading. And do share. I have a feeling those of you who haven't left LiW for dead are in a minority.
But enough about us. What a win from the Habs. I must say, that despite the shots, this took a long time to feel like a game they should, would and eventually had to win. The early shot totals deceived a bit with chances more even until the third. And with the goals flying in, and the constant threat of speed down the Tampa wings, it never felt safe.
But the team did win, and the result looks like the right one according to the boxscores here. Most players were good in both aspects of the rink, the top line was just blanket dominant. Even Eller and Gionta, with the red marks over possession used the counter-attack to constant dangerous effect. And if the blah performer was Price, then even he can take pride in battling through many minutes of sudden death for a win.
As a Habs fan, I am happy about the prospects going forward. I have seen a Tampa team that is over-reliant on a few top players lose more top players. While Stamkos will be hard to outright stop, he simply can't play 60 minutes, nor score 3 every time out. The Montreal top line actually looked every bit as dangerous as the Richard trophy contender and more balanced in the process.
If I am associated with Tampa Bay, however, I am panik-ing. The underbelly is quite exposed and the match-up is threatening to look a lot different from the tame 240 odd minutes of regular season yawns. This is not all undone by Bishop either. A team cannot allow a line with two 40 goalscorers to get so many chances. My goodness, they didn't even convert them at a good rate.
But here we enter the real playoffs, the playoffs of adaptation and strategy. The Lightning have the talent and even the discipline to stem this tide against them. If they do, what will Therrien's answer be?
I look forward to the next act.