Stamkos pushes for 60 as Lightning visit Canadiens
Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 2:12 PMLIGHTNING (37-35-7) at CANADIENS (29-35-15)
TV: TSN, RDS (HD), SUN (HD)
Tampa Bay 5-5-0; Montreal 2-3-5
This is the fourth and final meeting this season between two Eastern Conference teams ultimately playing out the remainder of their respective seasons. The Lightning have won two of the previous three, including their last matchup Feb. 28 in Tampa Bay, a 2-1 Bolts win in which Adam Hall
scored the winner.
With three games remaining for both teams, the eyes of the hockey world will be placed firmly on Steven Stamkos
, who is two goals away from 60 for the season. It's an impressive accomplishment, especially considering Corey Perry was the only NHL player last season to reach the 50-goal mark -- and he finished the season with 50 on the dot.
After a 1-2-0 road trip to finish March basically ended Tampa Bay's hopes for another postseason run, the Lightning have been playing spoiler in the final stretch of the 2011-12 campaign. On Saturday night, Stamkos scored the overtime winner against Winnipeg, severely handicapping the Jets’ chances at a postseason berth.
In a back-and-forth affair against the Capitals on Monday, Tampa Bay fell behind 1-0 in the second period on an Alex Semin goal. But goals from Teddy Purcell
and Victor Hedman
just 25 seconds apart put the Lightning in the lead. When Jason Chimera cemented his first-ever 20-goal season with just 3:17 to play, the game seemed destined for extra time.
But for the second game in a row, it was Stamkos who provided the late-game heroics, giving Tampa Bay the lead with only 1:03 remaining in regulation. He sealed the deal with an empty-netter, giving the Bolts a big regulation win.
When owner Geoff Molson announced the firing of Habs general manager Pierre Gauthier last week, it marked an early start to what will be a long and interesting offseason in Montreal. Following Gauthier's firing, the Canadiens embarked on a modest two-game road swing to finish off March. It started with a humbling 4-1 loss Friday night to the Rangers in New York.
They would, however, follow up the Rangers loss with an improved effort the following night in Washington. Despite falling behind 2-0 to a Capitals team looking to make a mad dash toward the postseason, Montreal fought back to even the score in the second period thanks to goals from Erik Cole
and Tomas Plekanec
. Montreal fired 41 shots at Michal Neuvirth, outshooting the Caps 5-0 in overtime, but couldn't find a go-ahead goal before entering the shootout. It was there that goals from Matt Hendricks and Semin gave the Caps the 3-2 shootout win.
Stamkos has 11 points in his current six-game points streak while Hedman has 5 points in his current four-game streak. Ryan Malone
has 5 goals in his last three games. … For Montreal, Erik Cole
has 5 goals in his last five games while Plekanec has 4 points in his last five games.
The Lightning have Marc-Andre Bergeron
(back surgery), Mattias Ohlund
(knees), and Dana Tyrell
(knee surgery) on IR while Ryan Shannon
(shoulder), Mathieu Garon
(lower body), and Adam Hall
(upper body) are also out. … For Montreal, Carey Price
is out for Wednesday while Brian Gionta
(bicep surgery), Yannick Weber
(lower body), Raphael Diaz
(lower body), Tomas Kaberle
(upper body), and Scott Gomez
(concussion) are on IR. There is speculation that forwards Travis Moen
and Mathieu Darche
could be activated from IR in time to suit up against Tampa Bay.
The 60-goal mark would put Stamkos in an exalted group. Nobody has come close to reaching it since Alex Ovechkin scored 65 in the 2007-08 season, and only 19 players have hit the mark in NHL history. If Stamkos gets goal No. 60, he'll be just the second player to do so since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr got 69 and 62 respectively in 1995-96.
As their IR may indicate, injuries have been a problem for the Canadiens this season. They have already lost a League-high 410 man-games to injury and only two Habs players, Cole and Josh Gorges
, have suited up for all 79 games this season.