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Dennis: Lightning used anger to eliminate Canadiens

by Adam Kimelman / NHL.com

For additional insight into the Eastern Conference Second Round series between the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Chris Dennis to break down the action. Dennis will be checking in throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Dennis spent 10 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, including the past two as an assistant coach under Randy Carlyle and Peter Horachek. Prior to that he was the Maple Leafs' video coach for eight seasons.

Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he saw an angry group of players after losing Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Second Round to the Montreal Canadiens, and he hoped that anger would carry over to Game 6.

Chris Dennis saw that anger when the Lightning took the ice Tuesday, and it carried them to a series-clinching 4-1 defeat of the Canadiens.

"Tampa took it to them pretty good," Dennis said. "Back and forth to start, but then Tampa just slowly took over. … In Game 6 Tampa came out and said they were going to play their game; we're going to do what we need to do, and they went and did it. That first goal of the game, that tip by [Nikita] Kucherov, that's a Tampa Bay Lightning goal. That's how they play, that's how they score. It was a great goal and got them on their way."

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos made it 2-0 at 5:12 of the second period after the Canadiens turned the puck in the neutral zone. Alex Killorn passed to Stamkos, and the Lightning captain snapped a shot from between the circles through the skates of Canadiens defenseman Jeff Petry and past goalie Carey Price.

While Stamkos' usual offensive fireworks haven't showed during the postseason, Dennis has seen him contribute at a high level in other areas.

"That was probably the most dangerous he's been offensively the whole series," Dennis said. "The goal, he doesn't need much room to get off that shot and put it by Price. He was definitely more dangerous offensively. But the thing I find remarkable about Stamkos is how hard he plays all over the ice. He's committed defensively, he's committed physically. It's starting to go for him offensively more, which is good for Tampa; they need that from him if they're going to advance. As far as an effort level and contributing to the defensive effort, he's been doing that the whole time. The fact that he doesn't cheat for his offense says even more about him."

Ondrej Palat's goal late in the second made it 3-0 for the Lightning. While the Canadiens were able to score late in the third, they didn't have enough left to stay alive in the series.

Dennis believes having two days off between their emotional win in Game 5 and Game 6 might have hurt the Canadiens a bit.

"It's difficult to maintain that mental toughness for such a long stretch," Dennis said. "With a couple days between games they probably felt pretty good about where they were and what they accomplished. Complacency's not the right word, but there's a sense of, 'OK we're going to do this,' and there's a sense of maybe you take your foot of the gas a little bit. It's a very, very difficult thing to maintain, and that's why it's so difficult for teams to come back from 3-0 down.

"You have to be careful of the false sense of confidence. As difficult as it is, remember what got you there, and it was that unwavering commitment to their team game that they were playing. I didn't see them break away from that. But when you're in the situation they're in you're going to need special efforts from people and need them to step out of their comfort zone and do something above and beyond. … They probably didn't deserve to be down 3-0 [in the series] from what I saw. But to have to fight back from that, it wears on you mentally, it wears on you physically and it wears on you emotionally. It's a tough thing to maintain for that long a time."

One reason Dennis felt the Canadiens were able to stay in Game 6 despite managing 19 shots was Price.

"Not sure there's much argument that he's the best goalie in the League right now," Dennis said. "You're hearing comments that he might be the best player in the League, which is difficult to argue with after the season they had. He did what he could; he kept them in the game and he gave them a chance to win. At the end of the day that's what you need from your goalie, the opportunity to win."

But not even Price was enough to stop the Lightning from advancing to the Eastern Conference Final against the winner of Game 7 between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"A lot of that core is a young group, from the Norfolk championship they won in the American Hockey League [in 2012]," Dennis said. "They know how to win. Whether they've done it in the NHL or not, they've done it at other levels. As they gain experience at the NHL level they're starting to realize what it takes to close out a series and to win. With their skill level, their speed, their goalie playing well, they're starting to look like a real threat to move on to the [Stanley Cup] Final."

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