Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Depth drives Canadiens' series lead

In the playoffs, getting secondary scoring is a primary goal.

Typically, Lightning coach Jon Cooper says, the top lines cancel each other out, with role players — unsung heroes — often making the difference in a best-of-seven series.

The Canadiens' depth has been evident in taking a 2-0 lead over Tampa Bay in their Eastern Conference first-round series — with seven players (and all four lines) represented in Montreal's nine goals — and Cooper made one thing clear about those role players.

"These guys aren't schleps," he said.

Canadiens wing Rene Bourque, who scored twice in Friday's 4-1 Game 2 win, has struggled this season but is a nine-year veteran with three 20-goal seasons. Daniel Briere, who assisted on the winner Wednesday in Game 1's 5-4 overtime win, is a fourth liner but has 110 points in 110 career playoff games.

While the Lightning has several rookies playing in their first NHL playoffs, the balanced Canadiens' experience and poise have shone through.

"You look at all the teams that win in the playoffs, they get depth scoring in key moments," Lightning center Nate Thompson said.

"They might not score every game, but they score big goals. When we went on our run (in 2011), we had some other guys in depth roles scoring big goals. It's a big thing. You can't focus on (Steven Stamkos) and those guys scoring every game."

When the Lightning advanced to the Eastern Conference final in 2011, its third line sparked it, with wing Sean Bergenheim ranking second in goals with nine. In the first two games of this series, Stamkos has two of Tampa Bay's five goals. Tampa Bay has had its chances, but not enough, partly due to the Canadiens executing their defensive game plan.

With the Lightning's team built on speed, Montreal has often made it difficult for Tampa Bay to get through the neutral zone. As Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban said, "If we don't do that, they'll break us down." Instead, it's Tampa Bay players who have been left exasperated.

"Nobody likes to be suffocated," Subban said. "It's pretty frustrating if you got a bag over your head and you can't breathe. It's not the best feeling the world.

"It is tough when you turn up the ice as a defenseman and you see three forwards, two defensemen and Carey Price standing in the net."

Price, who allowed four goals in 16 regulation shots in Game 1, bounced back with a more typical performance Friday, stopping 26 of 27 shots.

"We are playing as a unit right now," Price said. "We are living in the moment."

There was very little celebrating going on in the Canadiens locker room Friday night, despite them heading home with a strangle­hold on the series. Montreal has seen this before. It won the first two games in Boston in a 2011 first-round series, then lost in seven.

"I'm not pleased," Subban said, "until this series is over."

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