Now the Tampa Bay Lightning know what the Montreal Canadiens felt like the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final.
Montreal’s overtime win in Game 4 on Monday night gave the Lightning a bitter taste of last week.
A little like Game 1, when Tampa Bay got traffic in front of Carey Price, Montreal did a better job of putting bodies in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy. A little like Game 2, when the Lightning were on their heels and yet scored opportunistic goals, the Canadiens were outshot 11-1 — and didn’t have one for the first eight-plus minutes — before going up 1-0 to set the tone and take their first lead of the series.
All that contributed to Josh Anderson’s opening goal, Alexander Romanov’s score in the third period and then Anderson’s overtime winner to send the series back to Tampa for Game 5 on Wednesday night. It also didn’t help Tampa Bay that instead of wilting, Price only got into a rhythm when he was peppered with 12 shots in the first period and looked sharp throughout.
The next challenge for the Lightning is finding the right balance of sticking to their plan that worked so well in building a 3-0 series lead and making a handful of adjustments to close out the Canadiens and lift the Cup for the second time in 10 months.
Based on what happened Monday, it could be a mix of game-planning, personnel and execution.
Copying some of the Canadiens’ alterations might be a good start. Aside from a shaky start — possibly because of a shakeup of forward lines — Montreal found its game and started banging around the Lightning between and after the whistles.
The banged-up Lightning might not want to get into a shoving match with the Canadiens at this stage, though they may have little choice and certainly have the big bodies to handle it. Montreal coach Dominique Ducharme looks brilliant for bringing fresh legs to the blue line with Romanov and Bret Kulak, and making one substitution up front by scratching Jesperi Kotkaniemi for Jake Evans, who set up Romanov’s goal.
Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper has one obvious option to get bigger, tougher and more experienced, assuming Alex Killorn is ready to play after missing the past three games with an undisclosed injury. Killorn skated in warmup prior to Game 3, but smaller forward Mathieu Joseph remained in.
Killorn’s return could pay big dividends 5-on-5 and on the power play, an area the Lightning struggled at in Game 4 because their skill players couldn’t retrieve the puck on several occasions. He has also been a part of multiple Cooper-coached title teams before, dating to the 2012 Calder Cup with Norfolk of the American Hockey League and brings the sandpaper Tampa Bay badly needs.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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