Tonight, a new postseason chapter begins to unfold, as for the first time ever in club history, our Habs take on the Tampa Bay Lightning. In net, Nikolai Khabibulin has been great thus far, while Jose Theodore stood on his head for the latter half of Round One. Let the games begin…
Khabibulin, who had three shutouts in the first round against New York — yes, three of them — will be looking to please the hometown crowd, but not if the Habs forwards get to him first.
The line of Kovalev, Koivu, and Zednik will clearly be staying intact, and look to build on their combined 24 points in seven games throughout round one.
It will, though, perhaps be the second line of Ribeiro, Ryder, and Perreault that makes the difference. The Koivu line could be the one that keeps things together, but if Ribs can match the output of Tampa’s second unit, likely centred by Brad Richards, than things would look much more promising.
It appears as if Jason Ward will not make his return to the lineup tonight, but the same can’t be said for Niklas Sundstrom. The smooth-skating winger missed all of round one due to injury, and if returning it’s likely he would dress on the third line alongside Jimmy Dowd and Jan Bulis, thus sending Steve Begin onto the fourth trio.
In Tampa, it’s being said that Martin St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier will suit up together on the team’s top line. It is possible that Coach Julien would match the Koivu line up against the Lightning’s first trio. On the other hand, Tampa’s second unit of Fredrik Modin, Brad Richards, and recent injury returnee Cory Stillman looks very dangerous, too.
On the back ends, Pavel Kubina is a very talented defender, and one who’s offensive totals will hopefully be matched one-for-one by our very own Sheldon Souray. Darryl Sydor and Dan Boyle round out a very good top-three for the Bolts, and one that many are underestimating.
However, Andrei Markov and Craig Rivet have played incredible in the Habs uniform during this postseason, and Mike Komisarek continues to develop into a very nice defender. The man who Komo is replacing, Stephane Quintal, travelled with the team but will not play.
In fact, it would be some sort of tragedy if Quintal did dress, seeing as his slowness would be more of a liability than anything else he could bring to the club. Komisarek has thoroughly outplayed him, and surely deserves to play from here on in.
All in all, the boys have set themselves up for what should be a great series. Win or lose, and we’re counting the former, not the latter, let’s hope to see some great hockey. Oh, and it sure would be nice to steal a game from the beaches before we head home to Montreal. Sure, the weather’s much nicer down there, but there’s no way that Tampa fans will be able to match the atmosphere that Hab fans will put on display for Game Three.
Although, it’s best not to get ahead of ourselves. A great team awaits us on the southern ice tonight, and in order to take the victory, we will have to be a great team, too.