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For the first time in 28 years, the Habs participated in a Stanley Cup Final game on Monday night in Tampa Bay.  Unfortunately, they didn’t put up much of a fight in the opener as they fell 5-1.

The Habs got some good news early in the day as Joel Armia was cleared from COVID protocol and hopped on a plane to join the team in Tampa Bay.  However, they opted to stick with their lines from practice which meant that Jake Evans took Armia’s spot on the fourth line; this was the only change from their series-clinching victory over Vegas.

Each team had a good chance on the opening shift but both missed the net.  It set the early tone for the period as Montreal’s best opportunities either trickled wide or went well over Andrei Vasilevskiy as the game plan clearly was shoot high early and often.  Brendan Gallagher and Tyler Toffoli had early chances in those categories.

Just past the six-minute mark, the Habs attacked Tampa’s zone with speed but the Toffoli-Suzuki-Caufield line tried to get a little too cute and turned the puck over, sending the Lightning in transition.  Tampa made them pay quickly.  Ondrej Palat threw a shot towards the slot and Erik Cernak was rushing through and put a perfectly-placed tip past Carey Price for his first career playoff goal in 46 games.

Two and a half minutes later, there was an ill-timed coverage misread deep in the Montreal end resulting in Barclay Goodrow being left alone in the slot.  Fortunately, his attempt went wide.  The Lightning had another good chance with five minutes left when Victor Hedman was left alone at the point, allowing him to skate in and slap one on goal but Price made the stop.

The Canadiens had the first power play opportunity of the game when Goodrow was called for a cross-check on Gallagher.  Tampa Bay had the best chance as an Erik Gustafsson turnover led to a three-on-two although they weren’t able to get off a shot.  The first power play unit moved the puck okay and had a couple of dangerous moments but they weren’t able to do anything with it.  The second unit struggled mightily.

Tampa got their first look with the man advantage with under a minute to go when Ben Chiarot was called for roughing Nikita Kucherov.  (Both penalties to this point were of the iffy variety.)  The Lightning’s top unit was quite dangerous but the Habs were able to get to the room just down one.  The shots on goal were 7-5 for Tampa Bay in what was a period where the Canadiens couldn’t muster up much aside from throwing a lot of hits.

The second period got off to an interesting start as Shea Weber’s wrister from past centre ice off the opening draw handcuffed Vasilevskiy but he got enough of it.  Montreal managed to kill off the rest of the penalty but allowed Brayden Point to get a point-blank shot just after it expired.  On the next shift, Cole Caufield had a good look off the rush.

The chances continued as on the next shift, Ben Chiarot rang one off the post.  On the following shift, Steven Stamkos was left all alone in another blown coverage, skated in on Price, and got off a strong shot that Price got the glove on.

The defensive struggles continued as they had two truly awful shifts, the second of which came back to bite them.  Off another failed opportunity to get the puck deep in Tampa’s end, the Lightning came back in transition.  Goodrow’s shot was blocked but the rebound came to Blake Coleman.  He was able to fire one through a screen that caught a piece of Yanni Gourde and went past Price to double their lead.

Three minutes later, Gallagher set up Weber for a breakaway which caught everyone but Weber off guard.  Unfortunately, Vasilevskiy was able to get a glove on Weber’s shot, keeping the Habs off the board.

Then the defensive miscues returned.  The defence got out of Ondrej Palat’s way, allowing him to get a dangerous shot off.  It didn’t go in but it yielded extended offensive zone time for the Lightning.  A minute and a half later, Tyler Johnson walked in but Price stretched out the pad to make the stop while the rebound attempt went wide.  Late in the shift, Josh Anderson was able to attack off the wing with speed but was unable to cut to the middle.  He got off a shot but it wasn’t particularly dangerous.

With just under four minutes left, Cernak nearly had his second on the night but it caught iron.  That seemed to wake Montreal up a little bit.  On the next shift, Byron attacked with speed and made a nice play to Anderson who wasn’t able to bury it.  However, the forecheck kept the puck in the zone.  The puck got back to the point and over to Chiarot.  His shot went off two Tampa Bay defenders and in for his first career playoff goal in his 52nd game.

Gallagher had a shot at a good opportunity in the final minute after a flip pass from Artturi Lehkonen sprung him for a potential breakaway.  However, by the time he was able to chase it down, he didn’t have enough space to get much of a shot off and the two sides went back to the room with the same one-goal difference from the opening frame despite some particularly rough moments from the Habs in the period.  The shots on goal were 12-9 for the Canadiens which didn’t exactly reflect the quality of the play.

Lightning winger Alex Killorn blocked a shot off Jeff Petry’s stick late in the period.  He managed to finish it and take one shift in the third before being unable to continue.

Unfortunately, things went off the rails in the third.  On yet another failed attempt to get the puck deep (fundamental play was sorely lacking from the Canadiens all night long), Tampa Bay came back in transition.  Kucherov’s shot hit Chiarot’s glove in the crease and then Chiarot directed it into the net for his second of the night – one for each team.  Just two minutes into the period, it was basically lights out.  A minute later, another defensive breakdown saw Ross Colton left alone in front.  Johnson found him from the corner but his shot missed.

Montreal wasn’t able to generate much offensively for most of the period as they were kept to the outside.  The fourth line had a good shift at the midway mark but that’s about it for positives.

With 8:35 left, Kucherov took the puck off a won draw, skated unimpeded to the middle, and sniped one past Price.  Point may have got a stick on it – at one point it was his goal but now is back to Kucherov but either way, it was 4-1.

The Habs got another look on the power play with six minutes left when Coleman was sent off for roughing on Gallagher.  This time, the second unit was the better of the two with a few shot attempts at the end.

Not long after the man advantage expired, Jesperi Kotkaniemi was called for a retaliatory high stick on Cernak, sending Tampa back to the power play.  They didn’t do much with that one but it was extended when Joel Edmundson took an unnecessary roughing penalty on Gourde.  The Lightning kept their top unit out and were successful in snapping Montreal’s streak as Kucherov set up Stamkos for a one-timer from the boards that somehow snuck through Price.  The successful kill streak came to an end at 32 with the clock mercifully running out a minute later.

It was easy to tell early on which team had experience and which team didn’t.  Tampa Bay looked sharp all game and Montreal played scared for long stretches, failing to even execute the most basic of plays while getting burned on poor defensive zone coverage time and time again; the Lightning didn’t capitalize on those or it could have been more lopsided.  The coaching staff has plenty to work on between now and Wednesday’s second game.  But if you’re looking for a stat to cheer about, the team that has lost Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final has come back to win it in each of the last three years.

Vasilevskiy made 18 stops for the win while Price turned aside 21 in a losing effort.  He kept Montreal closer than they should have been for a while before the wheels came off in the third for him as well.  The Lightning were 1/3 with the man advantage while the Habs were 0/2.

HW Habs 3 Stars

1st Star: Josh Anderson – In a game where the Habs were most successful at dishing out hits, Anderson stood out the most on that front.  He was one of the few players who didn’t look overwhelmed at some point or another in the game.  He didn’t generate a ton offensively but had a couple of good looks at least.

Stats: 0 points, +1 rating, 2 shots, 8 hits, 13:16 TOI

2nd Star: Brendan Gallagher – The effort was definitely there and he seemed to be getting under the skin of several Tampa players rather easily.  That could prove beneficial as the series goes on in the form of retaliatory penalties.

Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 3 shots, 2 hits, 14:04 TOI

3rd Star: Shea Weber – Another one that wasn’t overwhelmed by the situation, Weber was Montreal’s best defender in this one.  He made a really nice play that led to Chiarot’s goal, wasn’t hesitant to shoot (which stood out with the forwards being too tentative), and threw his weight around.

Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 5 shots, 6 hits, 25:20 TOI

Honourable Mention: Ben Chiarot – I don’t think he played particularly well but he scored his first career playoff goal and picked up his first point of the playoffs.  That alone gets him the honourable mention.

Stats: 1 goal, -2 rating, 2 PIMS, 1 shot, 7 hits, 2 blocks, 23:41 TOI