Didn’t see that coming.
Sure, the Montreal Canadiens were certainly good enough to take out the Tampa Bay Lightning. Heck, they finished a mere point behind Tampa Bay after 82 hockey games this season.
However, with a 4-3 victory on Tuesday night at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens took out the Lightning in four straight in the opening round of the playoffs and I’ll be the first to admit that was a shocker. It was the Canadiens first playoff series victory since 2010 and their first sweep since taking out Buffalo in the Division final in 1993. That year, the Habs won their last Stanley Cup.
With the exception of Game 2, the Lightning played well. They lost the opener in overtime and were beaten 3-2 in Montreal on Sunday night. On Tuesday, they fell behind 3-1, changed goalies, scored two late goals and made a game of it before Max Pacioretty scored with less than a minute to play to give the Habs a 4-3 win.
The biggest story of Game 4? Tampa head coach Jon Cooper benched starting goalie Anders Lindback and replaced him with Kristers Gudlevskis. Remember Gudlevskis? He was the Latvian goalie who nearly stole an Olympic round-robin game from Canada all by himself back in February.
Tuesday night he was looking down the ice at Carey Price again. This time Gudlevskis made 16 of 17 saves, but once again gave up the winner to Price’s team. Talk about having your number.
In this series, the Lightning proved that without the injured Ben Bishop, they were not the same hockey team. When Jon Cooper said in late March that Bishop was the reason “the Lightning were in the playoffs and fighting for home ice advantage,” he was right. With Lindback as the starter, the Lightning wasn’t even close to being the same team.
The Habs took advantage of Tampa’s misfortune and fired all sorts of pucks at the Lightning goaltenders. On Tuesday night, Montreal outshot Tampa 37-23. In the opener, the Habs outshot Tampa 44-25. In Game 2, Tampa outshot the Canadiens 27-26, but Montreal built a nice early lead and sat back. In Game 3, the Habs outshot Tampa 31-29. Through the series, Montreal outshot the Lightning 138-103.
Montreal wanted to “get pucks deep and at the net” and after four games, it was Mission Accomplished.
Now, the Habs get the winner of the Detroit-Boston series and after Boston’s 3-0 shut out of the Red Wings in Detroit on Tuesday, it’s starting to look like another magnificent Habs-Bruins series.
“We’ll be well prepared, I can tell you that,” head coach Michel Therrien told reporters after the game. “As far as I’m concerned, we won this series but we haven’t accomplished what we set out to accomplish. For me this was a step, and we have another step to take.”
I now find myself cheering for the Bruins in their opening round series against Detroit. In a spring that’s already full of fights and stick swinging and cheap shots, can you imagine what a Habs-Bruins series will be like?
If it happens, be sure to bring the stitches, the gauze bandage and the beer. It’s going to be a nasty ride.