BROSSARD – While the Tampa Bay Lightning might’ve got the best of the Canadiens during the year, Michel Therrien’s troops aren’t about to let regular season defeats dictate their playoff future.
Yes, Jon Cooper’s contingent swept the season-series against their Atlantic Division rivals, winning all five meetings with the CH in 2014-15. Yes, the Lightning outscored the Canadiens by a 21-8 margin during those contests and outshot them 191-120 along the way. And yes, goaltender Ben Bishop secured all five of those victories for Tampa Bay, upping his record to 10-1-2 in 13 career starts against the Habs.
Come Friday night’s series-opener at the Bell Centre, however, none of those numbers really mean anything at all.
“I don’t think we think about the regular season. You put it in the past. Playoffs are a completely different story,” offered Dale Weise, who registered two goals and a plus-3 differential in Round 1 against the Ottawa Senators. “The way scheduling is during the regular season, you play back-to-backs and stuff like that. Playoffs are completely different. The fact that we struggled against them in the regular season does add a little bit of motivation, but I think this is a team we’re very comfortable playing. They don’t scare us at all. We’re very confident in ourselves.”
That’s the general consensus inside the Canadiens’ locker room right now, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the Lightning enjoyed regular-season success against the Habs last year, only to be sent packing in four straight games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Anything can happen in the postseason. Head coach Michel Therrien is well aware of that.
“We know that we’re the underdogs in this series. We’re probably the only team with home ice advantage being considered an underdog right now. We’re going up against an offensive powerhouse. It will be a good challenge. But, we know that the regular season is just the regular season. Playoffs are a completely different thing,” stressed Therrien, who has been behind the bench for 65 playoff games with Montreal and Pittsburgh over the years. “It’s a little bit like last year. The Lightning dominated us during the regular season and then we saw what happened in the playoffs. We managed to up our game a notch.”
There’s no reason to believe the Canadiens can’t flip the switch on the Lightning again, even with the odds stacked against them heading into Game 1. If that’s going to happen, Tomas Plekanec insists stymying just one or two of their top guns isn’t necessarily the best approach.
“I don’t think our plan will be focusing on [Tyler] Johnson or [Steven] Stamkos alone. We’ve got to focus on ourselves and play our game. If we do that, we’ll make it hard on both of those guys or whoever is on the ice. It will be tough for them to score,” mentioned Plekanec, who put up one goal and three points against Dave Cameron’s squad in Round 1. “People talk a lot about individual players, but for us it’s all about team systems, team efforts and a team game. If we do that, we’ll make it hard on them all around.”
It certainly would help the Canadiens’ cause if the power play finally hit its stride. You’d have to believe that going 1-for-20 with the man advantage in Round 1 might prove costly in Round 2, particularly against a team boasting a bevy of offensive weapons up front and on the back end alike.
“I think it’s going to come down to execution, putting pucks to the net and winning battles. You look at the power play right now around the League. There’s really no one out there who can say they have a good power play and it’s making the difference for them. But, we know that it can be the difference as the playoffs go on,” offered P.K. Subban, who leads the Canadiens with four points through six postseason outings in 2015. “I think we just have to remain positive and stay confident in ourselves that we have the personnel and the skill level to execute. For us right now, it’s just a matter of winning those battles, making sure we’re putting pucks in the right areas, supporting each other and trying to convert when we have the opportunity.”
For their part, the Lightning were equally inefficient with the power play in their opening-round series against the Detroit Red Wings, finding the back of the net just twice in 30 opportunities. If the Canadiens are desperate to turn their power play fortunes around, it’s safe to say Tampa Bay is, too.
“We’ve played these guys a lot over the last two years. I’m sure they know our tendencies and we know theirs. What’s going to make the difference in this series is maybe throwing something at them that they don’t expect and them doing the same,” explained Subban, suggesting both squads will likely be adding some new twists to their power play units in an effort to get them going in Round 2. “That’s what I think the playoffs are all about.”
Power play aside, there’s no questioning the Canadiens’ drive to get the series started on a high note in Montreal. There’s nothing Therrien & Co. would like more than to set the tone for Round 2 early and put the likes of Bishop, Johnson and Stamkos on their collective heels for the first time all year.
“We want to come in hungry. They came in hungry this season because we swept them last year. We’re hungry now because they swept us this season,” admitted Brandon Prust. “We’ve got a lot to prove.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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