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Mishkin's Extra Shift: Closing out a playoff series is never easy

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Compared to their performance in Game Four, the Lightning played better in Game Five. But not well enough. A couple of costly turnovers led to Montreal goals, including one late in the third period after the Bolts had tied the game earlier in the frame. As a result, the series returns to Amalie Arena for Game Six on Tuesday.

For most of the first period, the Lightning were the better team. Unlike what happened in Game Four, the Lightning’s passing and execution was crisp from the start. Don’t pay attention to the shots, which ended up as 10-9 for Montreal. The Lightning looked like, well, the Lightning. They buzzed up ice and forced numerous turnovers in the Montreal zone. Unfortunately, they couldn’t translate that solid play into a goal – and a lead. Instead, the Habs struck first. The Lightning didn’t make many mistakes in the period, but one of them, an unforced neutral zone turnover, resulted in a counter rush for the Canadiens. Devante Smith-Pelly roofed a shot from the left circle over Ben Bishop’s right shoulder.

There were two elements that helped the Canadiens in this game. The first was the goal from Smith-Pelly, which allowed them to play with the lead for most of the game. To the Lightning’s credit, they didn’t lose their structure in chasing the game, which is something that happened in Game Four. But there’s no doubt that the Canadiens were able to gain confidence once they got the lead and kept it through the end of the first.

The second were three Montreal power play chances. The Habs have only scored two power play goals during the entire playoffs, but their power play looked fantastic in Game Five. Montreal won just about every power play faceoff and applied pressure throughout. The Canadiens hit three posts during their power plays and posted six of their 29 shots while on those man advantages. So while they didn’t score on any of the power play chances, they did gain momentum from those opportunities. And they held onto that momentum for a long time after the power plays ended.

The first power play came early in the second and set the tone for much of the frame. Once the power play ended, the Lightning struggled to get pucks out of their own zone (something that didn’t happen in the first). Montreal, as it did for much of Games Three and Four, carried the puck possession. The Lightning did have some momentary push back in the middle of the period and nearly tied the game on a Brendan Morrow shot. Carey Price was looking the other way and didn’t know the shot was coming, but the puck hit him in the pad and ricocheted out. Then, the Habs got another power play late in the second and carried more momentum through the end of the period. Other than some isolated looks, the Lightning spent most of the period back in their own zone. Shots on goal in the period were 10-6 for the Habs, but shot attempts were 30-15 in favor of the home side.

For the first 11 minutes of the third, the Lightning rediscovered their game. They got pucks deep in the Montreal end and forechecked effectively. Price made a remarkable stop on Valtteri Filppula to keep his team up by one – he dove on his side and just got a piece of the shot with the top of his glove. But he couldn’t stop a rebound goal from Steven Stamkos at 9:27, which tied the score. Anton Stralman faked a shot at the right point and walked around a Montreal defender. His shot came from the top of the right circle and led to a rebound. Stamkos, standing at the hashmarks, swatted the puck into the net. The Lightning continued to buzz on the next couple of shifts, but then took a costly penalty at 10:56. The sequence began with a neutral zone turnover and ended with an Andrej Sustr high-sticking infraction. Again, the Bolts got through the kill, but the Canadiens were dangerous on it – and Bishop had to make a couple of tough saves.

Once the kill was complete, the Lightning couldn’t regain momentum. Instead, the Canadiens maintained their jump and the Lightning helped them with some sloppy puck management. On the winning goal, the Lightning had stolen the puck in the slot, but a miscue on a pass from Stamkos to Alex Killorn resulted in a P.K. Subban interception at the right point. He set up P.A. Parenteau in the high slot and Parenteau put an end-over-end shot over Bishop’s left shoulder with 4:07 left. The Lightning couldn’t tie the game a second time.

As Phil Esposito and I stated at the end of Game Five, if anyone had asked the Lightning at the start of the series if they would want to have a 3-2 series lead heading into Game Six at home, they would have taken it. Nobody said winning playoff series is an easy business. The Canadiens are an excellent opponent. Montreal is a team that had 110 regular season points. The Habs, as a group, are a more seasoned playoff club than the Lightning – they won three elimination games last season, including a Game Seven in Boston against the (then) President Trophy-winning Bruins. And don’t forget that in the first round this year against Ottawa, Montreal followed a similar route as the Lightning in this series. The Habs grabbed a 3-0 series lead, then lost Games Four and Five. They did end up closing out the series in Game Six.

In the long run, I have no doubt that the Lightning will be better for having gone through the experiences of Games Four and Five. And in the short term? Win Game Six, of course! How do they do it? They’ll need to play a crisp game throughout – when they were on their game, they had the Canadiens on their heels in Game Five. When they weren’t, the opposite was true. Also, getting a lead would help – make the Canadiens chase the game, something Montreal hasn’t had to do in either of the past two contests. As good as the Montreal power play looked tonight, the Lightning must avoid unnecessary penalties. And, unlike Game Five, a game in which they didn’t receive one power play chance, they’ll hope to draw some penalties themselves and keep their own power play, which has netted six goals in the series, rolling.

Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):

Parenteau’s GWG.

Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):

1.Carey Price – Canadiens. 24 saves.

2.Victor Hedman – Lightning. 22:18 TOI.

3.P.A. Parenteau – Canadiens. GWG.

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