CANADIENS (46-28-8) at LIGHTNING (46-27-9)
TV: CNBC, CBC, RDS, SUN
Last 10: Montreal 7-2-1; Tampa Bay 7-3-0
Season series: New division rivals this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning won three of four games against the Montreal Canadiens in the regular season and held a 7-4 advantage in points. The first three games went past regulation, with the Lightning and Canadiens each winning a shootout in the opponent's building, before Tampa Bay won 2-1 in overtime at Montreal on Feb. 1 and 3-1 at Tampa Bay Times Forum on April 1.
Big story: By winning a shootout against the Washington Capitals on the final day of the regular season, the Lightning were able to finish one point ahead of the Canadiens in the Atlantic Division and grab home ice for this Eastern Conference First Round series. That could loom large in determining who advances, as could the injury that sidelined Tampa's No. 1 goalie Ben Bishop for the end of the regular season and at least the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Anders Lindback will oppose Montreal veteran Carey Price in Game 1.
Canadiens: Home ice is nice, but Montreal was equally adept at winning on the road this season, with 23 victories each at Bell Centre and away. The Canadiens will have at least one key forward back, as center Lars Eller proclaimed himself fit to play after missing three games with the flu.
Rugged forward Brandon Prust is also working his way back into game shape after missing time with an upper-body injury. Prust isn't renowned for his offensive ability, but he practiced on a line Tuesday with Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher that could create some havoc against the Lightning's top line with Steven Stamkos.
"Getting Prust back into the lineup is going to be big for us. He's a guy who shows up and plays for his teammates every night. We've played well together in the past and it's a lot of fun playing with him. Hopefully we can have success together and help the team," Gallagher said. "As a team, we need to do a good job playing defensively. Stamkos is a really good player. He will get his chances and create things and it's up to us to make it tough for him."
Lightning: Losing the goalie with the fourth-most wins (37) in the NHL just days before the start of the postseason wouldn't appear to be a recipe for success, but don't expect Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper or any of his player to blink. Having survived for nearly four months while Stamkos recovered from a broken leg and finishing with the third-most points in franchise history has given the Lightning the confidence they can win regardless of who might be absent.
It helps that Lindback, who entered the League four years ago with the Nashville Predators, took advantage of his final few opportunities in the regular season and provided the Lightning with a solid last line of defense as they overtook the Canadiens for second place in the Atlantic.
"You just have a smile on your face for him," Stamkos said in the Tampa Bay Times. "We can't stress how hard he works in practice, the great teammate he is, always smiling, not only getting himself better but challenging other players by staying out there longer and making them better. He deserves everything he's getting."
Who's hot: Since returning from a lower-body injury that sidelined him coming out of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Price has won eight of 11 starts for the Canadiens with a .932 save percentage. He comes off a 41-save shutout of the New York Rangers in the regular season finale. … Lindback is 3-0-0 and has stopped 77 of 79 shots (.975 save percentage) since relieving Bishop April 8 in the Lightning's 3-0 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Injury report: Montreal forward Alex Galchenyuk (lower body) will miss the first round. Forward Travis Moen (concussion) practiced Tuesday in a non-contact jersey and will travel with the team. Prust (upper body) is expected to be in the lineup. … Bishop (upper body) skated Wednesday, but is out for at least the beginning of this series. Tampa Bay forwards Ondrej Palat (upper body) and Valtteri Filppula (lower body) practiced Tuesday and are expected to be in the lineup.