For the better part of Game 4, the whistles had been put away. As the clock wound down in the third period with the score tied at three, there had only been two penalties called all night, the last coming just two minutes into the second period.
Over 35 minutes of game play later, with just two minutes left on the clock, 20-year-old Cedric Paquette of the Lightning found himself sitting in the penalty box, likely praying to the hockey gods that his penalty – which was a penalty, though it wasn’t the most egregious – wouldn’t cost his team.
Max Pacioretty scored the first playoff goal of his career on Latvian goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis with 43 seconds left to put the Habs up 4-3; as Paquette made the long skate across the ice back to his bench, the olés came raining down.
So, how did Habs/Bolts come to be a 4-0 sweep? Weren’t these two teams supposed to be locked in for a close series? Weren’t their regular season battles tighter than two coats of paint?
How Montreal swept Tampa
The unfortunate injury to Vezina hopeful Ben Bishop meant Tampa Bay was going to be heading into the playoffs with back-up Anders Lindback, and he hadn’t had much of a season. With Carey Price at the far end, he was going to have to step it up his game, and it looked like there might be hope for him, as he was good during Tampa’s last few regular season games.
But nope. Lindback was so bad I suggested “Lindbad” as a nickname, while Daryl Reaugh topped that lazy joke with the hashtag “#LindbackOfTheNet.”
In fairness, Lindback saw a ton of rubber – the Lightning gave up 34.5 shots per game. Also in fairness, he stopped that rubber at a rate of .881, worse than every other playoff goalie save for Ilya Bryzgalov (now confined to the bench) and Jonathan Quick. He gave up 14 goals in four games for a 3.91 goals against. But the numbers weren’t even the worst part for me, it was how the goals went in. It’s not like he was getting beat on tic-tac-toes.
Unscreened slapshots snuck between his pad and glove, shots that were so far from net-corners they nearly hit the goal cam, and shots in the first few minutes of games where his team desperately needed a stop…they all went in.
He’s obviously not personally responsible for the whole sweep or anything, but the fact remains: he wasn’t good, and the Lightning needed him to be.
Rene Bourque was in beast-mode
Seriously, Rene Bourque’s first four games of playoffs were remarkable. For context: he averaged an even 15 minutes per game, which was more than only three forwards on the Habs. In that time he:
* Led the team and series in shots with 22 (5.5 per game). The next closest was Alex Killorn of Tampa with 16. Steven Stamkos had 14, as did Montreal’s second most-frequent shooter, Pacioretty. He even has four more shots than Rick Nash, who has the second most in all the playoffs, and Bourque accomplished that rate of shooting while having another 16 attempts miss the net or get blocked. That’s 38 total attempts in four games. Jaw-dropping.
* He led the Canadiens in hits, and was also hit a ton too, meaning he had his physical game engaged. He was competitive, hard on pucks, and just a bear to play.
* At even strength he was on for a single goal against in the series, while his line scored five times.
He was simply too much for Tampa to handle.
Tampa’s kids were asked to do a lot, and had little veteran support
They were relying on big minutes (and contribution) from young rookies such as Ondrej Palat (23) and Tyler Johnson (23). They were using Alex Killorn (24), Richard Panik (23), and Andrej Sustr (23) regularly. Even Radko Gudas (23) is still a pup. You can only ask so much from all that youth – all those named averaged over 15 minutes a night – and while they were fine, they weren’t quite ready to carry a team to deep playoff success.
Then there’s Cedric Paquette, who came straight from junior to the Lightning’s line-up. He had two regular season games under his belt before they tossed him into the fire at 20 years old, playing him 10:33 per game. Paquette was on for Montreal’s OT winner in Tampa Bay (and was partially responsible), and took the penalty that led to Montreal’s game winner with under a minute left in game four. Here’s what his coach Jon Cooper had to say after the game:
“That’s the first thing I said in the room, was ‘Ceddy pick your head up.’ That poor kid gave us everything he had. And y’know, two of the game-winning goals the poor kid is on the ice for. But he’s the first guy I was going in to hug in the room.”
Too much, too soon for all the youth.
So after the kids…who? Steven Stamkos is the captain at all of age 24, and he was good. He had four points in four games, and generated 3.5 shots a night. But who else ya got?
Matt Carle, the team’s leader in ice time-per-game in the series was particularly bad. He was on for seven goals against at 5-on-5 and only two for, he was hemmed in his own zone a lot, and wasn’t the rock his team needed to be. None of the older guys were.
Tampa actually won the special teams battle during the series, but at 5-on-5 they got eaten alive. During the regular season, the best 5-on-5 goals-for/against ratio was Boston, who outscored their opponents at evens at a rate of 1.53. Tampa gave up 10 5-on-5 goals to Montreal, while only scoring five in the series themselves (a clean rate for Montreal of 2.00).
That can partially be explained by the final reason…
The Canadiens’ biggest offensive threats didn’t exactly light up the series. Pacioretty had two points, David Desharnais the same, Thomas Plekanec had three…but the rest of the line-up picked up the slack. Brendan Gallagher was a force, leading the team in both points (five) and every possession stat. Lars Eller played well, also tallying five points. You already know what Bourque did. The fourth line with Danny Briere and Dale Weise were awfully present in big moments.
The Habs line-up looked pretty solid from top to bottom.
One of the biggest things with the NHL playoffs isn’t just winning a series, it’s winning them early so your team can be healthy enough to win the next one. Coach Michel Therrien has given his team two days off entirely to rest (a luxury rarely afforded to playoff teams), they should have Alex Galchenyuk before too long, and they came out of round one generally unscathed.
I wasn’t huge on the Habs as a legit contender out of the East at the start of playoffs, and while I’m still not sold (just based on their draw, which has them likely facing Boston next), a rested, healthy Canadiens team isn’t going to be an easy out for anyone.