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Canadiens out to prove a point against Lightning

by Arpon Basu

BROSSARD, Quebec -- After being swept by them in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning have had their way with the Montreal Canadiens lately.

The Lightning have won both games against the Canadiens this season rather handily and will have an opportunity to continue that dominance when the top two teams in the Atlantic Division play at Bell Centre on Tuesday.

It will be the first of three games between them in a span of three weeks, and the Canadiens are eager to turn things around.

The residue of last season's playoffs remains in this matchup, especially since the Lightning did not have goaltender Ben Bishop for the entire series. Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher feels the Lightning are still trying to prove a point because of that, and that his team now has a point of its own to prove as well.

"I'm sure they weren't happy about how last year's playoffs went and want to come out and show it might have been a different story, and for us we haven't had very much success against them in the two games," Gallagher said Monday. "They really dominated us in all facets of the game, so we want to come out and show that wasn't us either. We want to change the storyline a little bit."

One way the Canadiens have already changed that storyline is by significantly changing their team.

Since the Lightning defeated the Canadiens 4-2 at Bell Centre on Jan. 6 a number of players have come and gone from Montreal.

On Tuesday, there will be five players in the lineup who did not play against the Lightning on Jan. 6: defenseman Jeff Petry and forwards Devante Smith-Pelly, Jacob De La Rose, Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn.

On the Lightning side, it's likely that defenseman Braydon Coburn will be the only player in the lineup who did not face the Canadiens the last time, though it's possible forward Vladislav Namestnikov will also be in the lineup in place of injured forward J.T. Brown.

Not only have the Canadiens added five players, those additions have significantly changed the look of the team in many ways.

The acquisition of Petry from the Edmonton Oilers has made the Canadiens defense more top heavy than it was before, with the top two pairs of Andrei Markov with P.K. Subban, and Petry with Tom Gilbert, combining to play nearly 50 minutes a game.

That is a big change from before Petry arrived, when the Canadiens defense had a much more balanced look.

"We wanted to make sure we had a top-4," coach Michel Therrien said. "So we're very satisfied with how that's worked."

Up front, the promotion of rookie center De La Rose from Hamilton of the American Hockey League and the acquisition of Smith-Pelly from the Anaheim Ducks for forward Jiri Sekac has created a brand new third line, with center Lars Eller being moved to the wing to complete the trio.

The line is fast and has an average height and weight of approximately 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds. Smith-Pelly in particular brings a physical element the Canadiens were lacking before, and De La Rose has become Therrien's trusted center for defensive zone assignments and late-game situations when protecting a lead in spite of his young age of 19.

Jacob De La Rose
Left Wing - MTL
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 3
SOG: 19 | +/-: -3
"I think our line has been playing good lately," De La Rose said. "We've been tough to play against, had some good, long shifts down low. We're three players who have a lot of speed, who are a bit heavy too and we can forecheck our opponents."

Mitchell and Flynn have transformed the Canadiens fourth line as well, giving Therrien two right-shooting natural centers, something he did not have until the two forwards were acquired in separate trades with the Buffalo Sabres.

"I think we're both playing the roles we should be playing here," Mitchell said, noting both he and Flynn often found themselves on the top line in Buffalo.

The Canadiens are still integrating all their new players into their way of playing, taking a big step forward in that respect at practice Monday, their third full practice in two weeks.

So perhaps by the time the Canadiens play the Lightning for the final time this season March 30, all those players will be fully in the fold.

But before then, in fact as soon as Tuesday, the Canadiens would like to correct the lone blemish in their performance against Eastern Conference playoff teams this season.

Aside from their 0-2-0 record against the Lightning, the Canadiens are a combined 14-2-1 against the six other teams that are in position to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.

"We're playing against the team that's scored the most goals in the NHL, so they have a lot of skill, a lot of potential offensively that's coming up and they have a lot of depth to score goals," Therrien said. "Even their defensemen are really active, and we're going to need to take their time and space away.

"We all understand this is an elite team in the NHL and it's going to be a huge challenge."

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