Season Series: Tampa Bay Lightning – 3-0-1; Montreal Canadiens – 1-1-2
Keys to Winning for Tampa Bay: The Lightning made the biggest trade at the deadline this year when they traded Martin St. Louis to the New York Rangers in exchange for Ryan Callahan. It was the first straight up captain-for-captain trade in NHL history, and many speculated that the Lightning were getting the short end of the stick. Callahan has 11 points in 20 games this season for the Lightning, but he ended the regular season with only two points in his final eight games. Steven Stamkos will find a way to produce offensively, but Callahan will be the catalyst when it comes to putting goals on the board for the Lightning.
The Lightning’s goaltending situation is the biggest question mark heading into the postseason. Ben Bishop was fantastic all season, but he hasn’t played since suffering an upper-body injury on Apr. 8. If Bishop can’t go, the Lightning are in trouble. It will be interesting to see if head coach Jon Cooper decides to go with Anders Lindback or Kristers Gudlevskis if Bishop can’t suit up. Lindback is by far the more experienced, but Gudlevskis showed the world in the 2014 Sochi Olympics what he can do. It was Gudlevskis who almost led Latvia to a stunning upset over Canada.
For the Lightning to be successful, Bishop will have to be healthy and Callahan will need to play at an elite level.
Keys to Winning for Montreal: The Canadiens will go as far as goaltender Carey Price allows them. He has proven that he is an elite goalie and he will need to be at his best. Max Pacioretty came five points shy of a career-high and has proved that he is the biggest offensive threat on the roster; however, he enters the playoffs on a bit of a cold streak – he went pointless in his final three games of the regular season.
If the Canadiens want to be successful against the Lightning, they are going to have to be more efficient on the power play than they were throughout the regular season. The Canadiens’ power play was the 19th best in the NHL and only converted just over 17 percent of the time. P.K. Subban is the quarterback with the man advantage, and how he plays will determine whether or not the Canadiens can succeed with the man advantage. Special teams always finds a way to play a more crucial role in the playoffs because referees tend to let more go and opportunities can be tough to come by.
If the Canadiens want to come out on top in this series, Price and the Canadiens’ power play will have to be the reasons why.
Prediction: Montreal in seven.
I think goaltending will be the difference in this series, and considering that Bishop is banged up, the advantage has to be with Montreal. Three of the four games in the regular season went into overtime, and I expect this series to be the most exciting first round matchup.