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Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty and Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mark Barberio.
In theory, it may not be the most exciting first-round matchup, but the Habs facing the Lighting does represent the status quo. Were the playoffs to start today, the Lightning would hold home-ice advantage against the Habs, in a repeat of the two teams’ 2003-04 Eastern Conference semifinal matchup.
Not only was that the last time the two teams faced in the playoffs, it’s the only time. While the Lightning swept that series, it was 10 years ago, and a lot has changed since then.
For starters, whereas the Lightning went on to win the Stanley Cup during that playoff run, they entered this season without having made postseason for the past two years.
The Habs may not be legitimate Cup contenders, but Tampa is, similarly, a young team just learning how to win. Also, especially now that Tampa has traded away Martin St. Louis, the two sides are also relatively evenly matched. Each of the teams’ three games this season has gone to overtime. Two have gone to a shootout.
So, no, there may not be a lot of history or bad blood between these teams, even if they are now in the same division. However, that’s liable to change, because not only is it the most likely first-round matchup for the Canadiens, it’s also the most likely to be the closest, game to game.
Likeliest outcome: Habs win in six games as the second seed or lose in seven as the third seed.