Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due: A Tip of the Hat to Montreal from a Tampa Bay Fan

Now I know how that might sound, but give me a chance to explain.  I haven’t suddenly become a Montreal Canadiens fan out of the blue (perish the thought).  I’m still very firmly apart of the Bolts Nation (come on, you knew that).  I just feel there is something to say about that four-game series sweep, another side to the coin, another sentiment other than the Tampa Bay Lightning lost it on their own terms.

It’s quite possible that the Bolts lost it on Montreal’s terms, too, and that may have been more of the deciding factor in the way the series turned out.  Not that the Lightning played so poorly as much as the Habs played so much better.  They just wanted it a bit more at this time and took the series from the Bolts.

Which is really how you win in the playoffs though isn’t it?  You have to take games from teams more than you really just win them.

Let me explain.

I don’t know about the rest of you out there, Bolts Nation, but despite the Lightning getting bounced out of the playoffs early, I’ve still been watching all the matchups that the playoffs this year have to offer.

I watched the entire first round and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the second as it has gotten started.  I’m a fan of the Lightning first and foremost, but second to that, I’m a huge fan of the NHL, and the game of hockey itself, so no matter what, with or without the Lightning included (though preferably with), I watch the Stanley Cup playoffs for the best hockey there is to offer.

Playoff hockey is on, you say?  I’m watching it.  Bottom line.

No regular season game can compare to the tension, the grit, the emotion, the speed and pure entertainment value of a playoff hockey game.  No matter the round and I think most NHL fans will agree with me.

This newfound sense of respect for the Montreal Canadiens, this epiphany of sorts regarding my slightly changed point of view on that heartbreaking four-game sweep of Tampa Bay by Montreal on April 22 changed (if only incrementally, I’m still upset obviously) while watching game three of the Eastern Conference Divisional Championship series (second round) on Tuesday May 6 between the Habs and the Boston Bruins.

I’ve been watching that particular series, maybe like a lot of you Lightning fans out there still sticking around to watch the playoffs, with nothing but a desire to see the Habs embarrassed by the East’s favorite to win the Cup this year (hell, favored by the whole league).  At least that was my goal at the outset.

Things changed over those first three games.  While watching Montreal play an undeniably great team in the Boston Bruins (who I have no issue whatsoever disliking) I started finding myself impressed by the urgency in which the Habs played.  The same urgency they used to dominate the Bolts in their first round series hadn’t diminished one iota in the second round against Boston.  They looked just as hungry and just as passionate as ever.  And they’ve had much success because of it; leading the series 2-1 as of this writing.  The first team so far to maybe make the Mighty Bruins sweat a little more than usual.

They looked like a team who is fully aware of where they are (the Stanley Cup playoffs, duh) and what level of play is required of them if they have any intention of staying there, and hopefully seeing that Cup at the end of the journey as it is meant to end for a playoff team (not with golf and a TV remote).

And that’s the difference between the team the Bolts met during the regular season and the team they met in the first round of the playoffs.  I know how the 2013-14 regular season series looked against Montreal on paper, and how it leaned Tampa Bay’s way or seemed to, prior to the first round series.  I was just as surprised as all of you out there at Montreal’s complete dominance over Tampa Bay.  But obviously, the Habs had a depth of experience; or, a depth of talent anyway (looking at you, Carey Price, to name only one.  I’m not naming anymore of them.  You understand), to turn on that something special, that edge, when it came to the playoffs, and the Bolts simply didn’t have it.  At least they don’t yet.

And the reason for that, the reason the Bolts couldn’t turn on that special something when the postseason was in full effect isn’t just one thing.  It’s a multitude of factors that I’m positive General Manager Steve Yzerman, head coach Jon Cooper, and the players themselves, will be looking at very closely during the offseason to try and make it a nonissue the next time around in the playoffs (which we all firmly believe will happen) through either free agency, their farm system, the draft or just by resigning the right talent on the current roster who have already made this past season such a success.

The Canadiens played liked it was the Cup Finals in the first round while the Lightning played like they were still stuck in the regular season.  It’s as simple as that.  The Lightning was still working the kinks out with a young team, unexperienced in the playoffs (to say nothing of our goalie issues), while the Habs were a much better oiled machine ready for a showdown and a Cup run with a veteran, elite goaltender (Price again) in net; fresh off a gold medal winning performance in Sochi.  That’s what sets the two, more or less, evenly matched teams apart.  That’s what made Montreal the better team.  They had a playoff switch.  It appears the Bolts still need to find theirs.

You can’t fault the Habs for that.  You have to give credit where credit is due.  That’s just my opinion on that matter.  If I’m honest, I do believe the Lightning will see much of the Habs over the coming years (and not just because of the divisional thing, I’m talking playoffs), and that’s good for their club.  I think things will remain competitive and close between the two teams and it will only make Tampa Bay better at being a postseason regular.

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

But, in this case, Montreal was the more deserving team at this given time, and I, as a Lightning fan, can read the writing on the rink walls, so to speak.  The better team won and I wish them all the luck in the world, especially if they keep playing with the same heart against Boston as they did against our Lightning team.  Heart is a beautiful thing in hockey.  No matter the jersey.

Good hockey in the NHL should be celebrated, not scoffed at.  Just because your team wasn’t up to the challenge when the bell rang, doesn’t make the team you lost to any less worthy of hockey’s greatest goal.

Hockey is bigger than that.  And so should be the writers who cover it.

Good luck, Montreal.

The Lightning will be seeing the Canadiens again next year:  A wiser and slightly older Tampa Bay team, for sure, with some scars above their skates to say they were there, but ready nonetheless for another shot at the dance.

Until that time, here’s one swept Lightning fan who wishes the Canadiens the best.

That is the most honest thing to say when you love the game as I do.

And hockey can be a game of epiphanies if you’re watching it right.


Off the Dot is an ongoing column of opinions, feelings and thoughts on all things Tampa Bay Lightning.  This is a knee-jerk reaction column for the many things that a fan maybe feels or thinks throughout a hockey season.

This is NOT a stat by stat analysis of the Bolts, but rather a theater of words concerning the Lightning and the many emotions tangled up in supporting your favorite NHL team; a theater for all fans to come to for a more personal take on Tampa Bay hockey.

That’s why I call it “off the dot”.  Because if we were “on the dot”, as in face-off mode, well, things would be decidedly more on-point and specific.  While off the dot, while we’re still just milling around the face-off circle, as I am now, waiting for the whistle to blow, then we’re just being conversational.  We’re just talking about our thoughts on strategy maybe or whatever random concept happens to come to mind, needing to be expressed.  The fun off-key banter of fans before someone (whoever) decides to hunker down, spread out their skates, and get nose-deep over the dot for the real face-off, and maybe say, statistically speaking, what happened in a win or loss in their more researched opinion.  And we have those articles all over Bolts by the Bay, and I very much encourage you to check out those articles, too.

These are just my opinions, my feelings, and my thoughts – while we’re off the dot.

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Tags: 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs Tampa Bay Lightning

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