Goaltending to headline Lightning-Canadiens showdown
There is a reason the three games this season between the Lightning and Canadiens have been so close: goaltending, Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said, adding he has no doubt tonight's important matchup between the teams at the Tampa Bay Times Forum will be any different.
"These have been one-goal games. They go to shootouts. They go to overtime," Cooper said. "They have had a little bit of everything. But above all they've had outstanding goaltending on both sides."
In three starts against Montreal this season, Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop is 2-0-1 with a 0.92 goals-against average and .962 save percentage. Montreal's Carey Price is 1-0-2 with a 1.23 goals-against average and .962 save percentage.
Eash game this season has ended 2-1 with the Lightning winning one in overtime and one in a shootout and losing one in a shootout. In fact, six straight games between the teams have been decided by one goal and nine of the past 11.
The game has lots of playoff implications as the teams seemed destined to meet in the first round of the playoffs. The only question seems to be who gets home ice. The Canadiens currently are second in the Atlantic Division, two points ahead of the Lightning. Whichever team finishes higher, gets home ice.
Tampa Bay can also clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2011 and only the second time since 2007. Tampa Bay must win, the Capitals must lose in regulation and the Devils have to lose in either regulation or overtime.
However it happens, as defenseman Matt Carle said, "Things would have to go extremely wrong for us not to make the playoffs, so we're really honing in on how we want to play come the playoffs."
One thing a team does not want to do, Carle said, is "take your foot off the gas," especially when you see what has happened to the Maple Leafs who have put themselves in precarious playoff position by losing eight straight games.
"You want to be running on all cylinders at playoff time," Carle said. "You can't switch it on like a light switch. It's not something that just comes overnight. You want to be playing at playoff intensity game-in and game-out leading up to it."
Which brings us back to tonight's game.
"These teams know exactly where they sit and how close they are to each other," Cooper said. "There's a lot on the line tonight, and I'm fairly certain this (game) will have a little different feel than our run-of-the-mill one of 82."
Other stuff from the morning skate: Scratches for Tampa Bay will be announced near game time. Certain to be out are defenseman Keith Aulie and forwards Cody Kunyk and B.J. Crombeen. Forward Tom Pyatt and defenseman Mark Barberio both said they will skate warm-ups before a decision is made if they will play. ... It would seem Barberio is a good bet to play after he played so well Sunday against the Red Wings with two prime scoring chances and three shots on goal in 14:28 of ice time. That after nine straight games as a healthy scratch. "He was jumping into play and had a couple of our best chances to score," Cooper said. "I thought he was real good breaking out pucks. It's good to have guys you can just plug in." Players getting game action after extended time off can go one of two ways. They can be rusty or rested. Barberio was the latter. "The biggest thing was to try to stay focused while i wasn't playing," he said. "Still trying to keep my intensity up in practice and keep things up-tempo and strong in the gym, so when I came back I didn't miss a step." ... Tampa Bay will get its fifth look this season at Lightning killer Thomas Vanek, who has 25 goals and 40 points in 35 games against Tampa Bay. In four games this season against the Lightning -- two while he was with the Sabres, the other two with the Islanders -- the left wing has two goals, four points. "He always seem to be around the net every time we play him," Cooper said. "He's a really dangerous player. he's really hard to push off the puck down there. The one thing you have to make Vanek and his line do is play defense, put them somewhere they are a little bit more uncomfortable to play. If they're in the zone tonight we're going to really need Ben Bishop to help us out." ... Lightning defenseman Sami Salo needs one goal to reach 100 in his career. ... Center Valtteri Filppula's 12-game points streak (five goals, 11 assists) is the league's longest active. ... The Canadiens are on an 8-1-0 streak with five straight wins overall and five straight on the road.