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McCarthy: First goal, beating trap keys for Lightning

by Arpon Basu

For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens, has enlisted the help of longtime NHL assistant/associate coach Kevin McCarthy to break down the action. McCarthy will be checking in throughout the series.

McCarthy played in more than 500 NHL games with the Philadelphia Flyers, Vancouver Canucks and Pittsburgh Penguins, then spent a decade as an assistant and associate coach with the Carolina Hurricanes, where he was a member of the staff that led the franchise to a Stanley Cup championship in 2006. He joined the Flyers as an assistant during the 2009-10 season and stayed in Philadelphia until October 2013.

If there is one person who can relate with Lightning coach Jon Cooper right now, it would be Kevin McCarthy.

He was behind the bench of the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes, who went down 2-0 to the Montreal Canadiens at home and headed to Montreal facing a must-win Game 3. The Hurricanes put a rookie named Cam Ward in goal and went on to win four straight games to take the series in six, eventually winning the Stanley Cup.

Cooper would obviously love nothing more than to replicate what happened to McCarthy's Hurricanes.

"We told the players that there's no such thing as a momentum in a series, we believed that momentum swings happen within a game," McCarthy told "We told them it's about desperation; the more desperate team will win. And obviously, the team with the most to lose will be the one that's most desperate, so the Canadiens will need to match that in Game 3."

McCarthy has been impressed with Montreal's defensive play through two games, comparing the Canadiens to the way the New Jersey Devils played under coach Jacques Lemaire in his first tenure with the team from 1993 to 1998.

"They're playing that smothering neutral zone trap," McCarthy said. "What that does is lead teams to do things individually because guys think they can beat it by themselves. But that's the trap."

McCarthy believes the Lightning have to commit to chipping pucks into the offensive zone in order to gain possession and keep it, but they need to do it smartly. Similarly to the Devils with Martin Brodeur, the Canadiens have an excellent puck-handling goaltender in Carey Price, who can kill a forecheck by himself.

"Once that goalie touches the puck, your forecheck has been eliminated because you're playing defense right away," McCarthy said. "Offensive zone time is going to be a key for the Lightning."

In order to achieve that, the Lightning will need to make soft dumps into the corner to keep the puck away from Price, or chip it in and chase it, more than once if necessary, McCarthy said. Once established in the zone, the Lightning need to start shooting from all angles and look for goals on rebounds and bounces, he added.

"The way Montreal collapses on their goal, there are really no passing angles available," McCarthy said. "So if you try to make those passes, more often than not they're going to be intercepted."

Finally, McCarthy believes the importance of getting the first goal for the Lightning is even more vital than usual because it will force the Canadiens to open up and play more offensively, which will in turn create opportunities for the Lightning.

"Getting the first goal is always important," McCarthy said. "But it's almost doubly so against Montreal because of the way they play."

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