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Melrose: Lightning in driver's seat entering Game 6

by Barry Melrose /

I know I say this all the time, but I really believe it. It's really hard to defeat an NHL team four times in a row. I know the Chicago Blackhawks just did that to the Minnesota Wild, but there's a reason it doesn't happen more frequently. These teams are all pretty good.

That, to me, explains why the Tampa Bay Lightning couldn't sweep the Montreal Canadiens and why I have a hard time seeing the Canadiens ultimately rallying to win this series. When you take a look at Games 4 and 5 of this series, you have to wonder, "Can you beat Carey Price four times in a row?" I find it hard to believe you can. Yes, I know the Lightning swept the season series, but aside from their first game back in October all of those games were close and one went to overtime.

The past two games, I think, have been a case of Montreal being due. The Canadiens put some things together and their best players started playing some better games. Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban and Price all started getting their acts together and the Lightning were off their game a bit, in particular Ben Bishop, who was chased in Game 4. Since the start of that game Bishop has been outplayed twice by Price and that could be what ultimately decides this series. If Bishop is as good as Price, there is a good chance the series ends Tuesday.

That said, I still think Tampa Bay is in the driver's seat. Even with the surprising loss of Ryan Callahan to an emergency appendectomy, the Lightning are so good and talented and, again, it's just hard to beat a good team four straight times. Because they play in Florida the Lightning don't get the same ink as the rest of the NHL's heavyweights, but they're as complete and skilled a team as there is left in the postseason.

I don't think people really realize Tampa Bay was the highest scoring team in the League this season. That speaks for itself, obviously, but if their offense is not given its due that goes double for the Lightning's defense. Tampa Bay's defense is talented and enormous. Victor Hedman might be the best defenseman never nominated for the Norris Trophy. Andrej Sustr is gigantic. Jason Garrison is very solid and has a rocket of a shot and bringing in Brayden Coburn prior to the NHL Trade Deadline only improved the Lightning's depth on the back end.

Montreal has some small forwards and Tampa Bay's defense can push them around if they play their game. The Lightning have a gigantic defensive core that moves the puck and joins the rush very, very well. All of that bodes well for them as they try to close out this series.

As I said earlier though, it comes down to goaltending to me. Price has been the best player in the League this season and he'll need to keep it up for Montreal to complete the comeback. That's what great players do. If Bishop isn't Price's equal tonight we'll probably have a Game 7.

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