The Tampa Bay Lightning will try to make it four wins in four tries against Montreal this season when the Canadiens visit Amalie Arena tonight for a battle between the top two teams in the Atlantic Division.
The Lightning have had great success against Montreal in 2014-15, winning all three prior matchups by a combined 12-3 score.
Tampa Bay defeated the Canadiens six days ago in Montreal, Tyler Johnson scoring the game-winning goal 1:03 into overtime to overcome a strong performance in net by the Habs’ Carey Price.
Ben Bishop was equally effective for the Lightning, recording 19 saves to earn his 33rd win and third shutout of the season.
“It’s games throughout different points of the year, so we need to understand that things change as the year goes on,” Lightning center Brian Boyle said. “They’re a fast team. We’re aware of that. They can counterattack with the power play. They’ve got some guys that can shoot it. Obviously, the goaltending’s good. It’s kind of every aspect of our game we need to be right on top of and be at our best each time we play them.”
Last season, the Lightning went 3-0-1 against Montreal during the regular season but were swept four-games-to-none by the Canadiens in the opening round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
“I think the motivation’s here for everybody considering what happened last year,” Boyle said. “We’ve been chasing them in points throughout the year. It’s kind of yo-yoed a little bit, so it’s easy to get motivated.”
Montreal leads the Atlantic with 93 points; Tampa Bay is second at 91. The Lightning could move into a tie with a win in regulation tonight, although the Habs would still have a game in hand.
“They’re a good team, and fortunately for us in the first three games, we’ve had their number,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “So, just got to hope we can keep this going. We’ve got them a couple more times. We’re fighting for a playoff spot, and it’s just a lot of fun playing Montreal.”
Cooper said that a game between the Lightning and the Canadiens is one of the more fan-friendly matchups in the NHL.
“I think it’s a great fan game,” he said. “It’s two fast, skilled, speed teams with great goaltending. It doesn’t get much better than this.”
THIRD TIME’S A CHARM
Tampa Bay is the only team in the NHL that has yet to lose more than two consecutive games this season.
The Lightning are currently on a two-game losing skid and will need a victory tonight over Montreal to prevent losing three-in-a-row for the first time in 2014-15.
“I think it’s a mentality we’ve had that all year when we’ve kind of fallen short or haven’t played at our best necessarily that we quickly regroup,” Boyle said. “We’ve done a pretty good job of that I think throughout the year, and we’ve got to keep doing that.”
The Bolts weren’t pleased with their effort in a lackluster 2-1 loss to Winnipeg on Saturday, a game in which they registered a season-low 16 shots.
“I think we’ve got a group in here that demands a lot out of each other and themselves,” Boyle said. “It’s good to be a part of that. We know we’ve got to do better than we showed (against) Winnipeg.”
CARLE RETURNS TO LINEUP
Lightning defenseman Matt Carle made his first appearance in nearly two months, getting over 18 minutes of ice time against Winnipeg on Saturday.
Carle tallied his 11th assist of the season, getting the second helper on the Lightning’s lone goal in the 2-1 defeat.
Carle said he felt “a little rusty” in his first game back but should keep improving as the remainder of the regular season winds down.
“I’ve still got a handful of games here before the playoffs,” he said. “Hopefully, I can get going back to full speed before then.”
Carle had surgery to repair torn adductor muscles in his lower abdomen on January 20, 2015, and returned to action seven-and-a-half weeks later.
“This is a tough time of the year to come back,” Carle said. “Every game is pretty meaningful and especially playing against, it seems like our schedule here we’re playing against teams where everybody’s playing for something. It’s a fun time to be playing but difficult time where intensity’s ramped up a lot.”
Cooper said a healthy Carle is vital to the Lightning’s chances in a potential playoff run.
“I thought he did a great job in his first game back, and we’re going to need Matt Carle down the stretch and if we get into the playoffs, we’re going to need him,” Cooper said. “He’s a big part of our team. He defends. He blocks shots for us. He moves those simple, quick passes out of the zone. He’s got a calm demeanor about him, and he just, when we get Coburn back, that can really stabilize our D back there, which was probably a little bit of our Achilles heel for us last year.”