Tampa Bay Lightning's 5 Biggest Questions in Playoff Series vs. Montreal
It wasn’t pretty, but the Tampa Bay Lightning have secured home ice for the opening-round series against the Montreal Canadiens. With the shootout win over Washington April 13, the Bolts turn the focus to the Canadiens. Heading into the postseason series, Tampa Bay has a few big questions to address.
The Lightning finished the season on a four-game winning streak after a 1-0 shootout win over the Capitals. The win gave Tampa Bay 101 points on the year and secured second place in the Atlantic Division.
The effort against Washington was a bit nonchalant, but strong wins over Toronto, Philadelphia and Columbus have the Bolts headed into the playoffs with great momentum. The playoffs start April 16, as per the schedule release on NHL.com.
The following are the questions the Lightning must answer heading into the first round of the playoffs.
How Will the Lightning Play Under the Influence of Distraction?
News this week of veteran Lightning forward Ryan Malone being charged with a DUI and cocaine possession cast a dark cloud over a positive week of hockey. For a team that is such an active part of the community, this event will have ripples in a variety of areas.
As for hockey, the Bolts were without the winger against Washington, and his status is unknown for the Montreal series.
Under the terms of the collectively bargained joint NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program, Mr. Malone is subject to mandatory evaluation and, if deemed necessary by the Program Doctors, treatment pursuant to the terms of that Program. His future playing status, both in the near term and during the Playoffs, will be determined in accordance the terms of our SABH Program.
As mentioned, this situation and response has led to more questions than answers.
Will Ben Bishop Play?
Without goaltender Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay would not be in the position it is in. Bishop had a hand in 37 of the Lightning’s 46 wins this season. His 2.23 goals-against average earned some deserving Vezina Trophy talk.
He has been in and out of the lineup over the last few months. Most recently, Bishop left the April 8 contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs with an upper-body injury. Tom Jones of The Tampa Bay Times said that the injury puts the Bolts’ playoff chances on “life support.”
That attitude might be a bit extreme. Still, no clear timetable has been given for Bishop’s return, which will undoubtedly affect the game plan heading into the first round.
Is Lindy Back?
In case anyone was wondering what general manager Steve Yzerman saw when he brought Anders Lindback to Tampa Bay, the last week has shown what he is capable of. Bolts fans are wondering where that has been all season.
After Bishop left the Toronto game in the first period, Lindback kept the shutout intact. Two days later, he made 36 saves in a 4-2 win over Philadelphia and capped off a great stretch with a shutout of Washington to secure home ice in the first round.
The Bolts have played better defensively in the last few weeks, which bodes well for whoever is in net against Montreal. So, who will be in net?
What's the Price of 4 Wins?
In four matchups this season, Tampa Bay and Montreal combined for 11 goals, excluding the shootout. Bishop has been brilliant for the Lightning. In the opposing crease, Carey Price has been equally great for Montreal.
Price went 34-20-5 with a 2.32 goals-against average this season. Bishop’s numbers have been well documented.
Tampa Bay has a slight edge on offense. It averages 2.83 goals per game as opposed to Montreal’s 2.55. Over the course of a series, that slight edge could be the difference between a 3-2 win or a 3-2 loss.
If the regular season is any indication, this series could come down to which goaltender stands taller.
New Season, Same Story?
Tampa Bay has done well against the Canadiens this season. As Atlantic Division foes, the Bolts and the Habs faced off four times with the Lightning taking three of four. Despite the 3-1 edge in the series, the games were anything but blowouts.
Each of the first three games of the season series finished 2-1 in either overtime or a shootout. Tampa Bay took two of those three before a 3-1 win April 1 to close out the series.
Regular-season success against a team is great, but the Bolts will now need to win four games against the same team in the postseason.
Will the Lightning continue their success against the Habs in the postseason?
April 16 cannot come soon enough.