Everything aligned last night for the Tampa Bay Lightning to clinch their first playoff since the 2010-11 season. The Washington Capitals lost to the Dallas Stars in a 5-0 shutout. The New Jersey Devils lost in a shootout to the Buffalo Sabres 3-2. And finally, the Bolts beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 at the Forum.
The stars of the hockey gods in perfect alignment (it came on much like an eclipse foretold as the Caps and Devils games ended while the Bolts were still playing in the third period with a one goal lead); it felt preordained.
And to help build that mythology the Bolts were triumphant against the very team they are most likely to meet in the first round of the playoffs, though seeding has yet to be determined (last night’s win was more like a four point effort than two, as the Bolts are now tied with the Habs with 93 points, but with a game in-hand jump them for the number two spot in the Atlantic). The win sets a tone. The win births confidence. Precious confidence that will be paramount when these two teams likely meet in the first round.
Tampa Bay has defeated the Habs 3 times on the season this year with only one loss coming in a shootout back on Dec. 28 after the Christmas break.
Despite the serious nature of the injury accrued to Michael Kostka (in a blatant shoulder to the head by Douglas Murray which I’m sure will see him being suspended) during the third period it was nice to see what that match penalty suggested about the Habs: how when the chips are down some of the Habs react very poorly under the pressure and it appears their composure crumbles just a bit, if Murray’s frustrated, and illegal hit, is any indication. His ruling is scheduled for Thursday.
Kostka was diagnosed with a concussion from the hit and no timetable has been set on his return to the ice.
Here‘s the hit. Discern for yourself, though I think it’s pretty clear.
If Montreal can’t hang with the speed and incessant pressure that the Bolts are capable of producing, that’s a good sign for the usually very tenacious and oftentimes poised – and quite accustomed to coming back with strong final frames: Tampa Bay Lightning, when the first game of the playoffs is set to begin on April 16.
Montreal’s Carey Price is really the main culprit (that and the refs) in keeping last night’s game as close as it was up until the final period. Price dazzled the Tampa crowd with some truly magnificent saves (from what I heard and later saw, truth be told I was listening to the game from my car while covering a day-long high school tennis tournament, so much so that I needed a jump before leaving the park after the second intermission just to get home. Drained my car battery listening to the game). Price could be a dangerous factor in the playoff series against the Habs, but I think, if anything, last night’s win shows that despite his obvious command of the crease, more often than not, Price can be beaten. And several Lightning players beat him last night (Tyler Johnson with the shorthanded game-winner can attest to that), as they’ve done all season.
Johnson’s SH goal put him at 23 goals on the season – tying Steven Stamkos‘ franchise rookie record, set during the 2008-09 season. The shorty also tied Johnson for the NHL lead with five SH goals in 2013-14.
It can be done, and my theory is that it will be done. Bring ‘em on. These Bolts are ready for a run at the Cup! Couldn’t be more proud of this team!
Oh, and in other news, Martin St. Louis scored his first goal as a New York Ranger last night, short-handed. The same night Ryan Callahan scored his sixth goal in a Lightning sweater (four assists), in the same length of time.
Just food for delicious thought.
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