The Canadiens have relied on star goalie Carey Price all year, but Price can’t score goals – and because his teammates couldn’t produce much offense either, the Habs are going home for the summer after their 4-1 Game 6 loss to the rounding-into-peak-form Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Lightning finished the 2014-15 NHL season with the same number of wins as the Montreal Canadiens, but because Tampa Bay had two fewer regulation time losses than Montreal, the Habs won the Atlantic Division and the Bolts finished second. However, as the second-round playoff series between the two teams demonstrated, Tampa’s roster had more balance and scoring prowess and commitment to defense equal to the Canadiens’ – and at no point was that clearer than Tuesday in Game 6, when the Lightning limited Montreal’s chances and made the most of their own en route to winning the game 3-1 and sending the Habs home for the summer with a 4-2 series victory.
The Bolts held the Canadiens to just six shots in each of the first and third periods and 19 on the night. Tampa was the better possession team and only gave Montreal two power play opportunities Tuesday. And although they got a goal from star and captain Steven Stamkos, the Lightning also continued to get goals from players throughout the lineup: Nikita Kucherov opened the scoring with 4:25 left in the opening frame – one of two goals and three points he’d post in Game 6, giving him six goals and 11 points in 13 playoff games – and Ondrej Palat chipped in his third goal of the post-season.
With that type of support at both ends of the ice, Ben Bishop’s job was made easier – but you still have to give the much-maligned Bolts goalie credit for coming through when Montreal did challenge him. He certainly wasn’t perfect in the series, but Bishop didn’t wilt under the heat of the moment and allowed just five goals in Tampa’s four second-round wins. And he retained his sense of humor after the game when he made reference to a P.K. Subban comment earlier in the series:
Bishop: “Thank Goodness for my lucky horseshoe.”
— Joe Smith (@TBTimes_JSmith) May 13, 2015
At the other end of the ice, there was Canadiens MVP Carey Price. Unlike so many nights this season, Price couldn’t singlehandedly save the Canadiens in Game 6. But his .889 save percentage wasn’t the reason why Montreal lost. Their lack of support on offense for him is the reason for their elimination.
The Canadiens got a goal late in the third from Max Pacioretty (his sixth of the playoffs), but most of their key point producers struggled against Bishop and the Bolts. Tomas Plekanec finished Game 6 with just one shot on net, and finished the playoffs with only one goal (which he scored in Game 1 of the first round) in 12 games. Alex Galchenyuk finished Game 6 with just one shot on net, and finished the playoffs with only one goal (which he scored in Game 2 of the first round) in 12 games. P.K. Subban finished Game 6 with just one shot on net, and finished the playoffs with only one goal (which he scored in Game 2 of the first round) in 12 games.
Put differently: Tampa Bay has five players who’ve amassed at least three goals in these playoffs, and those five players have combined to score a total of 23 goals in two rounds. Montreal had just two players (Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher) with three or more goals, and their top five scorers combined to score just 14 goals.
The Habs were asking Price to do everything and score goals, and there’s only so much any superhero can do.
Montreal will go into the off-season with one obvious need, then. And Tampa Bay will move on to the Eastern Conference Final for the second time in Stamkos’ seven-year NHL career. They took the Boston Bruins to seven games in 2011, but have all the weapons to go even further this time around. Their defense has bent, but rarely broken, and after beating Price, the prospect of Bishop doing the same to either the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist or the Capitals’ Braden Holtby isn’t far-fetched as some may have thought prior to this series. And in Stamkos, Tyler Johnson (who leads all playoff scorers with eight goals) and Kucherov, they have an offense that doesn’t depend on one player carrying the entire load.
In sum, the Bolts are rounding into the form some hockey observers expected of them, and they’re doing it at precisely the right time of season. The Rangers and Capitals will have a tough go of it in Game 7 of their series Wednesday, but the winner will be walking into an even tougher opponent in the Lightning.