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Game preview: MTL vs. TBL

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
CANADIENS (29-20-5) vs. LIGHTNING (31-18-5)

In the first leg of their annual Superbowl weekend back-to-back, the Habs will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Bell Centre on Saturday afternoon.

On Thursday night, the Canadiens rolled into TD Garden and dominated the Bruins en route to a 4-1 victory. Daniel Briere had a goal and an assist, Alexei Emelin scored his first of the season and Max Pacioretty extended his lead as the team’s leading goal scorer with his 23rd. Goaltender Peter Budaj, who was given the start by coach Michel Therrien despite Carey Price having pitched a shutout in his previous outing, responded by making 34 saves and shutting down the fifth-best offensive team in the NHL. Dougie Hamilton had the only Boston goal, and starter Tuukka Rask was pulled by coach Claude Julien after allowing Montreal’s third goal, scored by Brian Gionta on the powerplay in the second period.

For their part, the Lightning has had a tough time on their three-game Canadian roadtrip. The team has dropped the first two match-ups on the trip, first losing to the Maple Leafs 3-2 on Tuesday, and then 5-2 against the Senators on Thursday. Ben Bishop left the game in Ottawa after only 1:49 played due to a head injury sustained in a collision with a backchecking teammate. Anders Lindback took over the crease for the rest of the game, allowing four goals on 27 shots. Bobby Ryan, Jason Spezza and Kyle Turris all had multi-point games for Ottawa, while Victor Hedman and Ondrej Palat were in on the both Tampa goals. Hedman was the main bright spot for the Lighting in the loss. The two-way defenseman, who played a team-leading 22:44, had a goal and an assist while adding seven shots on net.

The loss of Ben Bishop and Valtteri Filppula, who also left Thursday’s game with an injury, will make head coach Jon Cooper’s job very difficult going forward. Bishop has been the team’s MVP in the absence of All-World sniper Steven Stamkos, posting a sublime 0.932 save percentage and a 2.01 goals against average while going 26-7-4 since the start of the season. Meanwhile, Filppula is the team’s second-leading scorer with 40 points in 54 games. However, Stamkos has been skating with the team in practice, and may make his return to play sometime in the next seven days.

Saturday’s game will be the third of four season match-ups between Montreal and Tampa Bay. Both previous games have ended 2-1 in the shootout, with the victory going to the road team. On November 12 2013, Valtteri Filppula scored the shootout winner for Tampa, while Lars Eller did the same for the Habs on December 28. Carey Price has been dynamite against the Lightning, allowing just two goals on 69 shots faced in 2013-14.

Exceptionally, puck drop will be at 1:00 PM E.S.T.

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