Montreal Canadiens wary of wounded Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay's Ondrej Palat gets airborne during his team's playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre. (MARTIN CHEVALIER/QMI Agency)
The Tampa Bay Lightning are improving in their Atlantic Division semifinal against the Montreal Canadiens.
Problem is, the improvement hasn’t come fast enough for the Lightning, who had eight players make their NHL playoff debuts in this series, and now they face elimination Tuesday night at the hands of the Habs, who are up 3-0 in the series.
“Just look at Game 3, we played in an extremely hostile, tough environment and I thought we played our best game. The guys are learning, the guys are finding out what playoff hockey is all about and we’re getting better. The problem is now we’re running out of time so getting better is just not good enough anymore. Now we have to be great,” said Tampa coach Jon Cooper Tuesday morning.
“And we have to find a way to bring this series back to Tampa. To answer your question, the guys have gotten better. Everybody, every game, is slowly slowly elevating their game and I’m sure the playoff pressure or not being in this situation before has a small part to do with (being down 3-0).”
The Lightning had a controversial no-goal call go against them with the score 1-1 late in the second period of Game 3 and wound up dropping a 3-2 decision.
But after giving up a goal to the suddenly productive Rene Bourque just 11 seconds into Game 3, the Lightning enjoyed their longest stretch of productive hockey, which is something they can take into Game 4.
Forward Alex Killorn said the team started playing its game over the last 40 minutes of Game 3, which is something upon which to build.
“It just seemed like there was more of a will for us to win, a sense of desperation that should have been there in the first two games,” he said. “Tonight that’s going to be taken to a whole different level when you talk about desperation because it could potentially, the fourth game could be the last game, so we have to play hard.”
Lightning star Steven Stamkos, who was hit in the head by the knee of Montreal defenceman Alexei Emelin in the second period Sunday, said he will play in Game 4.
The Canadiens are wary.
“The Lightning are a tenacious team,” said Canadiens forward Daniel Briere. “We saw it this year after they lost Stamkos (with a broken leg in November). Everyone expected them to fall apart and they did the opposite, they came together and finished strong to come second in the division. I expect the same from them tonight. They’ve faced adversity before and they won’t give up that easily.”
Cooper said he was confident people will see more improvement from his team Tuesday night. Whether that’s enough to avoid elimination remains to be seen.
“We pointed in 16 of 20 games out of the trade deadline, things have been rolling pretty well for us, and we’ve hit a speed bump right now. But this team, when their backs have been against the wall, pretty much all the time they come through.,” he said.
“I’m not saying it’s going to dictate the result tonight but you’ll probably see our best game tonight.”
Goaltender Ben Bishop, the Lightning’s MVP this season who has been out with a left elbow injury, took part in the Lightning’s morning skate Tuesday, his first workout with this teammates since getting injured with three games to go in the regular season.
The Lightning probably need to extend this series to six or even seven games for there to be a chance of Bishop being ready to return.
Thing is, if they did win the next two or three games, would you want to lift Anders Lindback in favour of a guy who hadn’t played in almost a month?