Lightning star Steven Stamkos scores against Habs goalie Carey Price in Game 2 of Montreal's second-round series against Tampa Bay Sunday. (Francois Lacasse/NHL via Getty images)
It's well-known the Montreal Canadiens lean on star goalie Carey Price to help them win. But when Price isn't at his sharpest, his teammates need to step up. That didn't happen in Game 2 of the Habs' second-round series against Tampa Bay, and now Montreal is going back to Florida down 2-0 in the series.
It's hardly a secret the Montreal Canadiens rely an awful lot on superstar goalie Carey Price. So when Price isn't able to play like his normal superhuman self – as he couldn't in Game 5 of the Habs' first-round series against Ottawa – his team has a tough time helping out their MVP and scoring a bunch of goals. And unfortunately for the Canadiens, that was the case again Sunday in Game 2 of their second-round showdown against Tampa Bay: Price allowed four goals on 18 shots in the first two periods (including three power-play markers) and the Lightning rode a white-hot power play to beat Montreal 6-2, win both road games and head back to Florida with a commanding series lead.
Four of Tampa's first five goals on Price at the Bell Centre came with the man advantage and breathed life into an all-but-dormant Bolts power play that came into Game 2 ranked third-worst among playoff teams at 5.9 percent efficiency. The only team below them still active in this post season? You guessed it – it's the Canadiens (4.4 percent), who failed to convert on any of their three power plays Sunday while giving the Lightning a whopping seven man advantages of their own. Price wasn't the goat on any of them, but when you post a sub-.800 save percentage as he did through two periods, you're also not immune from constructive criticisms. And while nobody doubts the Hart Trophy favorite will rebound for Game 3 Wednesday, it's the performance of the team around him that's worrisome.
The Habs did start the game with fire in their bellies, outshooting the Bolts 14-9 in the first period and taking Game 2's first lead on a goal from trade deadline acquisition Jeff Petry. But the Lightning tied the game with 24 seconds left in the first when, after a cross-checking penalty to P.K. Subban, center Valtteri Filppula beat Price for his second goal of the playoffs. And after Lightning captain Steven Stamkos – who hadn't scored at all in his previous eight post-season games this spring – gave the visitors their first lead on a stupendous breakaway goal eight minutes into the middle frame, Tampa Bay got three consecutive power-play goals (two of which came courtesy of Nikita Kucherov, and the other, from Victor Hedman) to send Habs fans dashing for the exit doors and praying head coach Michel Therrien can concoct a remedy for their ailments over the next two days.
It's not going to be easy. They need more from their forwards, but that's nothing new. And perhaps the outstanding play of Price has probably set people's expectations for the franchise a little too high. The Canadiens don't have the scoring depth the Lightning possess. And don't take that just to mean they don't have a generational player like Stamkos. It's also about Kucherov (who now has seven points in nine post-season games) and Tyler Johnson (who chipped in a pair of assists in Game 2 to boost his point total to 10 in nine games) and Hedman (who gave them another assist and 19:46 of quality minutes) and others. This isn't to say the Canadiens won't eventually build the organization to get to where the Lightning are at; only that it looks as if it will take a while longer for youngsters like Alex Galchenyuk (held without a point and without a shot in 13:12 of ice time Sunday) to mature into players capable of dominating the way Tampa's are.
The Lightning have played the Canadiens seven times this year. The Lightning have defeated the Canadiens seven times this year. The great scoring Kraken more familiarly known as Stamkos has burst from his slumber and given Montreal a taste of something they want to at all costs avoid tasting the rest of the series. Price may not have an equal in Ben Bishop, but the Bolts goalie stopped 27 of 29 shots in Game 2 to boost his playoff save percentage to .933; he isn't the better goalie, but Bishop is playing well enough to give his teammates a chance, and his teammates are doing the same for him. Price has been holding up his end of the bargain, but his Canadiens teammates haven't. He may yet get the Habs back into this fight, but as it stands, Tampa Bay looks like a true Stanley Cup contender just starting to settle into a very dangerous groove.
Montreal, on the other hand, looks like a team with better days ahead, but lessons still to learn and a ways yet to go.