GAME: Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning.
PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference semifinals; Game 1.
TIME: Friday, 7 p.m. EDT.
Strong goaltending, production from their top line and an outstanding
performance against the opposition's best player helped the Montreal Canadiens
survive the opening round of the playoffs.
More of the same will be needed if the Canadiens are to have a chance
against the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning.
Coming off an improbable victory in the conference quarterfinals, the
Canadiens hope to carry that momentum into the opener of their semifinal series
against the well-rested Lightning.
Having never rallied from a 3-1 playoff series deficit in their 95-year
history, the Canadiens appeared headed for the offseason when the Boston Bruins
moved within one win of the second round with a 4-3 victory in double overtime
of Game 4.
Montreal, however, rebounded to win the next two games by a combined 10-3
score, forcing Game 7 in Boston on Monday.
Jose Theodore saved his best performance of the series for the most
important game, recording his first career playoff shutout in a 2-0 victory
that eliminated the archrival Bruins.
"Our players showed a lot of character," Montreal coach Claude Julien
said. "It would have been easy to throw in the towel after we lost that fourth
Richard Zednik scored both goals in Game 7 on assists from linemates Saku
Koivu and Alex Kovalev, who seemed to get better after his giveaway led to
Boston's winning goal in Game 4.
Theodore was outplayed by Boston's Andrew Raycroft at the start of the
series, but stopped 97 of the final 100 shots he faced, culminating with a
stellar Game 7.
"Teams are successful because of goaltending in this league," Julien said.
"He was at his best when it really counted."
Theodore will be facing a more potent offense, as the Lightning were one of
the league's highest-scoring teams in the regular season with 245 goals. Tampa
Bay, however, didn't need to score much in its first-round win over the New
York Islanders because Nikolai Khabibulin was almost perfect in five games.
Khabibulin recorded three shutouts and stopped 137 of 141 shots for a
remarkable .972 save percentage.
After a slow start, Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis had four goals and an
assist in the final three games. St. Louis, the NHL scoring leader during the
regular season and a Hart Trophy finalist, ended the series with an overtime
goal in Game 5.
Outstanding series from Khabibulin and St. Louis helped the Lightning finish
off the Islanders on Saturday, leaving them with plenty of time to rest up for
"Teams that win the Stanley Cup, they get those rests in between each
series. It's very important," Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella said.
The Lightning advanced to the second round last season, but were limited to
seven goals in a five-game loss to eventual Stanley Cup champion New Jersey.
"I think last year we went through the steps of being satisfied,"
Tortorella said. "You have to take each game at a time and each round at a
time. I don't think this team will be as satisfied as we were last year."
St. Louis isn't the only member of the Lightning that played well against
Fredrik Modin led the team with five assists and eight points, and Brad
Richards added a goal and four assists. More will be needed from top center
Vincent Lecavalier, who was held without a point despite registering 15 shots
Unlike the Islanders, Montreal features a potent top line that is playing
very well heading into this series.
Zednik, Koivu and Kovalev accounted for 10 of the team's 19 goals in the
first round. Koivu is the NHL playoff leader with eight assists and 10 points,
while Kovalev is tied for the league lead with five goals.
A big key to the Canadiens' win over the Bruins was Montreal's ability to
keep Boston's top line of Joe Thornton, Glen Murray and Mike Knuble in check.
Murray and Knuble each had two goals, but Montreal held Thornton, clearly not
100 percent healthy, without a point.
Theodore had a lot to with Thornton's ineffectiveness, but defenseman Craig
Rivet also was a major contributor. Rivet averaged a team-high 25:06 of ice
time per game and was a plus-6 while often matched up against Boston's top
Tampa Bay should have left wing Cory Stillman in the lineup Friday.
Stillman, the team's second-leading scorer in the regular season, missed most
of Game 4 and all of Game 5 against the Islanders with a sore left hip.
"You want to play as much as you can, especially in Game 4 and Game 5,"
Stillman said. "Unfortunately that didn't happen. The good news is that we get
another series, and I get to start it. I'm feeling much better."
The Lightning, however, won't have defenseman Jassen Cullimore in this
series. Cullimore, a former Canadien, is out indefinitely with a wrist injury.
Montreal is expected to be without defenseman Stephane Quintal and right
wing Jason Ward for at least the first two games of this series. Quintal has a
shoulder injury and Ward has a neck injury.
Game 2 is Sunday at Tampa.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Canadiens - 7th seed; beat Boston Bruins 4-3,
quarterfinals. Lightning - 1st seed; beat New York Islanders 4-1,
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Canadiens - Kovalev, 5 goals; Koivu, 8 assists and 10
points; Sheldon Souray, 12 PIM. Lightning - St. Louis, 4 goals and 8 PIM;
Modin, 5 assists and 8 points.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Canadiens - Power play: 10.0 percent (3 for 30).
Penalty killing: 92.0 percent (23 for 25). Lightning - Power play: 8.7 percent
(2 for 23). Penalty killing: 87.5 percent (14 for 16).
GOALTENDERS: Canadiens - Theodore (4-3, 1 SO, 1.86 GAA); Mathieu Garon (no
appearances). Lightning - Khabibulin (4-1, 3, 0.79); John Grahame (no
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: 2-2. The Canadiens won the first two meetings, but
the Lightning scored nine goals in taking the final two. St. Louis had four
goals and two assists for Tampa Bay, while Koivu led the Canadiens with three
goals and seven points.