Tampa Bay Lightning vs Montreal Canadiens: Stanley Cup 2014 first-round preview

A lot can change in a year. One year ago today, the Tampa Bay Lightning were a non-playoff team led by Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis; relics from the franchise’s 2004 Stanley Cup championship. Here we are now: both Vinny and Marty have been cast away and the core of a former Calder Cup champion group has graduated to the NHL to form the new Lightning, alongside notable first-round picks Steven Stamkos and Viktor Hedman. The Bolts are a Stanley Cup playoff team again; third best record in the Eastern Conference after 82 games.

The Lightning’s opponent: a Montreal Canadiens club looking to erase the disappointment suffered after a 5-game first-round loss last spring against the Ottawa Senators.

The Canadiens vs the Lightning features two Vezina candidates between the pipes in Carey Price and Ben Bishop, although it’s not clear if the latter is ready to start Game One this coming Wednesday. Bishop was injured in the final week of the season.

The Lightning scored 240 goals during the regular season, which was third most in the Eastern Conference. Their roster contains several unsung scoring heroes that haven’t yet made a mainstream name for themselves around the league. This first-round series against the Canadiens will provide the Bolts’ young forwards the opportunity to prove they can create offence when things tighten up in the postseason.

Under the guidance of head coach Michel Therrian, and stellar play of Price and backup goalie Peter Budaj, the Canadians allowed the sixth least amount of goals in the regular season this year (third least in the East). Montreal block a bunch of shots and collapse effectively, making it difficult to create offence against them.

Defence usually wins out in the postseason, and the Canadiens are a stronger defensive club than the Lightning. The key for Tampa to win this series, will be to ruffle the Habs’ feathers like the Sens were able to do last spring. The Canadiens lost their cool early in the first-round one year ago after Sens head coach Paul Maclean showed a lack of respect in post-game comments, referring to Canadiens’ players by their numbers, rather than their names.

Lightning Injuries: D Matthias Ohlund (Knee), G Ben Bishop (upper body), LW Ondrej Palat (upper body), C Valtteri Filppula (lower body), LW Ryan Malone (personal/legal).

Canadiens Injuries: C Travis Moen (concussion), C/LW Alex Galchenyuk (lower body), LW Brandon Prust (upper body), C Lars Eller (illness).

*Injuries courtesy of TSN.

Sal’s Prediction: Montreal Canadiens in 5.

The Canadiens likely learned from last spring’s mistakes, and they’ve added playoff superstar Danny Briere since then. On top of that, the Lightning core lacks NHL playoff experience – this is likely Tampa’s year to learn a hard lesson in the first-round of the postseason.

Brett’s Prediction: Canadiens in 6.

Coming off Olympic Gold Carey Price showed he can handle the pressure, combine that with the emergence of Max Pacioretty and the acquisition of Thomas Vanek, and I like the Habs and their positional depth to handle Stamkos and Co. Ben Bishop’s uncertain health is a concern.