Bolts Habs Preview

There are three things I learned today.

1. Always begin an HTR article with three random thoughts that establish you as clever, funny and discerning.

2. It’s cheaper to fly to Tampa from Montreal, spend a day on the beach, have the early bird dinner and see a Bolts Habs playoff game than to buy playoff tickets from a scalper outside the forum. Bolts playoff tix start at $8.

3. Montreal and Tampa are more even than their records indicate.
While it seems that the Lightning are the clear favorites against the Canadiens, the teams are statistically very close. Their current lineups match up closely on scoring, goaltending and special teams. The teams split their regular season series 2-2.

In the regular season the Lightning scored 37 more goals than the Habs. However, at the end of the season the Habs added perennial 30 goal scorer Alexi Kovalev and the Lightning’s 25 goal scorer Cory Stillman is hampered by a hip injury and may not be effective.

On the other side of the puck, the Habs and Bolts allowed the same number of goals against in the regular season. But, Khabibulin who will start, had a .910 save percentage, below Theodore’s .919. It appears that Montreal’s current starting lineup has a slight statistical edge on offense and defense.

On special teams, Montreal ranked 10th in power play efficiency, ahead of Tampa’s 16th place. But Tampa’s 10th place on the penalty kill is better than Montreal’s 22nd place. The more disciplined Bolts took only 278 penalties compared to Montreal’s 314. The Habs had five more power play chances than Tampa.

The teams split their regular season series 2-2, with Tampa narrowly outscoring Montreal 13-12. The Habs were outshot in each of these games by a *****ulative margin of 131 to 87. The Lightning played exceptionally well in the third period, outshooting Montreal by 78 to 34 and outscoring them 7-3. Theodore started all four games and had a .900 save percentage. Khabibulin stopped 22 of 25 shots in his one start and stopped all 11 shots in one period after Grahame was pulled.

Koivu, who leads the NHL in playoff scoring, has had great success against the Bolts, with 10 goals and 29 points in 21 games. Jan Bulis has also had success, with 19 points in 21 games. Martin St. Louis and Vincent LeCavalier led Tampa with six and five points respectively against Montreal this season.

On the injury front, Montreal is missing Quintal (shoulder), Sundstrom (ankle) and Ward (neck). The Bolts will have Stillman back for game one but will do without defenseman Jassen Cullimore with an upper body (possibly shoulder or wrist) injury.

This will be a great series. Each team features a top playoff scoring line and has a talented second line. Both goaltenders are capable of enduring 40+ shot barrages without giving up a goal.

What to watch for on Tampa Bay: The fact that two of Tampa’s forwards were nominated for the Lady Byng tells you that they are scorers not fighters. However, St. Louis and Modin are among the best two way forwards in the NHL. St. Louis led the NHL in short handed goals and points. According to Tampa coach John Tortorella, Modin is Tampa’s premier two way player. Tampa’s defense chipped in with 40 goals during the regular season, ahead of Montreal’s 32. If Tampa wins, the difference may be due to a timely shorthanded goal or to a defenseman joining the rush.

What to watch for on Montreal: Their physical first round left them bruised but 100% in a playoff frame of mind. Montreal may be able to steal a game before Tampa gets into playoff warfare mode. Three of Montreal’s top four shot takers in the first round did not find the back of the net. If Ryder, Souray or Dagenais find their groove, the Habs streaky offense could step up a notch. Finally as always Theodore on a roll, Montreal on a roll.

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