The Montreal Canadiens changed their third defensive pairing and put in Alexander Romanov and Brett Kulak for Game 4. It worked as ultimately, Tampa Bay could not quite attack Montreal’s bottom pairing the same. Tampa Bay still had their chances but Carey Price thwarted those. That included a first-period barrage and a four-minute penalty kill late in regulation and in overtime. Price stopped 32 of 34 shots in Game 4 and outplayed Andrei Vasilevskiy for the first time this series.
Can the Montreal Canadiens do this again?
That is the big question. For all the things that broke right for the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal still needed overtime and Josh Anderson’s two goals. It may be risky to expect that kind of performance again as the last time, Anderson went ice cold for six games with just one assist.
But for one night, moving Anderson to the Nick Suzuki line worked. With Caufield and Suzuki able to create, Anderson, in turn, made the space needed work. The winger was able to benefit when he potted two scoring chances. That included the overtime game-winner. Tampa Bay has the last line change this time around so the expectation is to see Anthony Cirelli’s line a little more. That seemed to neutralize the trio a bit the few times Jon Cooper could get him out there.
Something to be kept in mind is this. According to Natural Stats Trick, Tampa Bay dominated high-danger scoring chances at even strength on Monday night. The Lightning had 14 in all including 13 in the first and third period alone. Montreal had just four. Montreal will not win if this happens again or anything close to it. Also, expected goals were lopsided in favor of the Lightning.
The key difference is during the long line change on Wednesday, Tampa Bay has the preference, not Montreal. That may drive chances upward for the Lightning.
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Montreal faces a known uphill battle on Wednesday night
Can Montreal kill as many penalties as they did on Monday night. In all, there were five man disadvantage situations that the Canadiens successfully repelled. The Canadiens have to be more disciplined. Now, that discipline applies to defensive coverage and not just committing penalties. If Tampa Bay is allowed the space they were early in Game 4, the Lightning is going to make an impact on the scoreboard and not just the advanced stats counters.
Tampa Bay’s depth has been as big of an issue as their top lines. One could argue, Tampa Bay’s second line, without Alex Killorn, is performing the worst of the four trios. Of course, that is always up for conjecture. While Montreal may not be able to sustain an attacking, transitional offense on Wednesday, they should be able to do it for flurries err periods of time.
After all, the best defense is sometimes a good offense. This would spell their defense because it will be heavily taxed. Game 4 took a bit of a toll on Montreal. How much? We are going to find out quickly during Game 5. Montreal needs to again score first. That is obvious. The tenor of the game changes when they play downhill hockey. It just does.
Can the Montreal Canadiens pull off the unthinkable?
Consider the Tampa Bay Lightning is an overwhelming favorite to win Game 5. The answer to the question is if Carey Price plays as he did in Game 4. Why not! Price was able to close doors, control rebounds better. He played with a little more energy in his stride. When the game is tied or Montreal is leading, Price just plays at a higher level. That has been evident throughout this playoff run.
Anything is possible. Again, it all boils down to the start. Montreal must weather the early Tampa Bay storm then counter. If they can, a return to Montreal is at least plausible on Friday night. Stay tuned as the story is not quite done yet.
There should be an NHL playoff primer on Full Press Coverage tonight to preview Game 5 and expect even more coverage.