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Pregame Notebook: Fresh start in Montreal

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

During the regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning played the Montreal Canadiens five times and won all five.

In the first meeting, the Lightning destroyed the Habs 7-1 at Amalie Arena, the first time the Bolts got a crack at Montreal following a four-game sweep in the First Round that end their 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs run.

Overall, Tampa Bay outscored Montreal 21-8 and won three matchups at the Bell Centre in 2014-15.

Asked whether those results would have any bearing on the Lightning’s Second Round series against Montreal, a rematch of last year’s opening round series, Bolts captain and All-Star center Steven Stamkos promptly answered “none.”

“This is a brand new ball game,” Stamkos said. “We had a lot of success against them in the regular season last year. We had a lot of success against Detroit in the regular season this year, and they took us to seven. If anything I think this group has learned the lesson of not paying any attention to what happened in previous games.”

The Lightning are 8-0-1 versus Montreal during the regular season since the beginning of 2013-14. They’ve played each other 13 times over the course of two seasons.

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said the teams’ familiarity with one another is more important than the Bolts’ record in those contests.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any hidden secrets of what’s going to go on,” he said. “Two teams are going to have a game plan and execute and (Montreal goaltender Carey) Price and (Lightning goalie Ben Bishop) are going to have to step up and do their jobs. That’s what it’s going to come down to. Nobody’s pulling a rabbit out of a hat saying, ‘Oh my God, look at that big played they pulled out.’ I don’t see that happening.”

Tampa Bay’s rally in the First Round, coming back from a three-games-to-two deficit against Detroit to win the series, should help the Lightning remain confident and composed entering tonight’s Game 1 at the Bell Centre.

“I think last year we were a lot more nervous,” Bolts center Tyler Johnson said. “We came into the games and were really playing not to make mistakes because we really didn’t know what the playoffs were going to be like. This year, we got a taste of it from last year. I think that helped us. We had a hard-fought series with Detroit and I think that benefited us even more.”

PLAYING FAVORITES

On Thursday, Montreal head coach Michel Therrien said the Canadiens were “probably the only team that has got home-ice advantage that’s the underdog” because of the Habs regular season record against Tampa Bay.

Cooper wasn’t exactly buying that argument.

“They had 110 points, won the division, have a Vezina candidate, Hart candidate and Norris candidate,” Cooper said. “I guess if we had those, I’d say, ‘Yeah, he’s the underdog.’

“We don’t have those.”

Johnson added that, at this point of the postseason, there are no favorites.

“The way I look at it is any team in the playoffs right now is a good team,” he said. “I don’t know if you can really say there’s favorites or underdogs. We’re very close. We’ve been close all season long. We were close last year. They finished ahead of us so I would say we’re the underdogs.”

THE BISHOP FACTOR

In last season’s series, Lightning goalie Ben Bishop sat and watched as the Bolts were swept in seven days by the Canadiens.

Bishop dislocated his elbow in the week leading up to the postseason and didn’t play any of the four games.

With his inclusion in the lineup for the current Second Round series, the Lightning have an advantage they didn’t possess a year ago.

“We’ve got a guy that’s been a rock for two years in there, and that clearly is a big difference,” Cooper said.

The Lightning lost confidence when Bishop went down injured before last season’s playoffs. With the 6-foot-7 goalie clogging the net this time around, the Bolts should be better equipped to handle Montreal’s offensive attack, which ranks tied for 14th out of 16 playoff teams averaging two goals a game through six postseason contests.

“He’s been a major backstop for us the last two years,” Johnson said. “He’s been unbelievable. He’s one of those guys when he’s back there, he can bail us out. You just have that confidence in him when he’s back there, and he definitely benefits our team.”

Bishop, though, didn’t buy into the notion that he can be the x-factor in the series.

“I’m just excited to get out there and help our team,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a team effort, not just one guy. I’m just going to go out there and try to give my team a chance to win. I’m not really thinking about last year. I’m just kind of focusing on this year.”

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