MONTREAL – When the two best teams in the division go head-to-head in the postseason, it’s a recipe for a tight-checking, low-scoring, double-overtime start to the series.
Coming into the first game of the Eastern Conference semifinals with almost identical regular season records, the Habs and Lightning were expecting a heated start to their second playoff series in as many years. While Montreal managed to sweep Tampa in their opening round match up in 2014, the Canadiens knew things would likely take a little longer this time around.
Out-shooting and out-hitting the Lightning through 82:06 of action, the Habs exploded out of the gates with a few prime scoring chances early in the outing, including a pair of shots from David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty that rang off the post in the opening minutes. Despite the early onslaught, the Canadiens were only able to get one of their 44 shots to light the lamp behind Ben Bishop.
“We felt good about our start. In the first 15 minutes I thought we played really well. I think that team doesn’t get enough credit for their defense,” said Dale Weise, who accounted for seven of his team’s 43 hits on the night. “They do a good job, but we had some good chances. We said it last year, but if we keep playing like that, we’re going to win games.”
Needing double overtime to determine a winner in Montreal for the first time since a 2004 first round series against the Bruins, the Canadiens dominated multiple facets of the extra-long game against the Lightning. The Habs earned a 62% overall efficiency in the faceoff circle, buoyed by Lars Eller and Tomas Plekanec winning 36 of their combined 54 draws on the night. They also blocked 34 shots to Tampa’s 27, led by Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin and P.K. Subban’s five blocks apiece. In addition to the 44 shots that made their way to Bishop’s net, the Canadiens also had another 41 blocked or miss the mark.
They may have scored just once against the Bolts, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort or opportunities.
“We played the game we wanted to play. We needed a bounce,” explained P.K. Subban, who played 37:53 in Game 1, the second-most of his career behind the 40:38 night he put in against the Bruins in Game 5 in 2011. “It’s a game of mistakes and a game of inches and they got the bounce and a little bit of luck on their side tonight. There aren’t a lot of times I can remember when we weren’t doing the right thing. We played the right way today.”
Having now scored just three goals on 64 shots in the past two games, the Canadiens will be looking to bolster their offense heading into Game 2. While he admittedly hasn’t seen as many goal celebrations from his troops as he would like of late, the only aspect of his team’s game head coach Michel Therrien would change from Friday night is the result.
“We played an excellent game – the kind I expect from our team. There are a lot of positives to take from that game. We’re obviously disappointed and frustrated about the situation, but there’s nothing we can do about it,” mentioned Therrien, referencing an apparent missed offside that led to the eventual overtime-winner. “That’s the best game we’ve played against the Lightning this year. We put pressure on them and followed the game plan to the letter.”
Having gone 0-5 against Tampa in the regular season, the Habs weren’t expecting an easy second round series. If the Canadiens carry over their play from Game 1 into the remainder of the best-of-7 match up, the Lightning shouldn’t expect one, either.
“This is probably one of the best games we’ve played all year. I thought we did a good job moving the puck out of our zone and defending and I thought we limited their opportunities to carry the puck through the neutral zone with speed,” described Subban. “We did a lot of good things today, except win the game. If we play that way for the rest of the series, I think we’re going to be in a good spot.
“You have to win four games to move on,” he added. “There’s a lot of hockey left to be played.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com
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