MONTREAL - It came literally at the last minute, but having winger Max Pacioretty score his first playoff goal was about the last thing the Montreal Canadiens had to cross off their to-do list in their opening-round sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Pacioretty poked in a rebound of a Thomas Vanek shot with 43 seconds left in Game 4 to break a 3-3 tie and eliminate the Lightning.
It wasn’t like Pacioretty wasn’t getting chances all series. He was second on the Habs in shots with 14 in the four games behind Rene Bourque’s incredible 22.
Pacioretty led the Habs with 39 goals in the regular season, but didn’t get that first career playoff goal (in eight games) until a Montreal power play late in Game 4. He’s a streaky scorer (most of the good ones are), so if that’s a sign he’s going to cut loose, it’s a good omen for Montreal in the second round in which the Canadiens will face either the Boston Bruins or Detroit Red Wings.
Pacioretty was given time to find his range by the other Canadiens forwards as the other three lines combined for 13 goals.
“It was the only thing keeping me sane during my little drought there. It’s insane that we can talk about three games as a huge drought, but you’re expected to score every night especially when you get the minutes we get and the opportunities we get,” he said of his line with Vanek and centre David Desharnais.
“I would have been really down on myself if other guys weren’t stepping up and we hadn’t come out with three wins.”
The other positive sign from the goal was it came on the power play with the game on the line. The Habs finished the regular season on an 0-for-23 schneid, but now is 2-for-13 in the playoffs (though it has given up a shorthanded goal, too).
“It was just keeping things simple on the power play,” said Pacioretty. “That’s what we’ve been stressing a lot lately, especially in the playoffs. Teams are willing to get in those lanes and block the shots. (Vanek) got his through and I just poked it. It was the bounce I needed.
“I think you get caught up in power-play percentages and the amount of power plays ... some power plays are more important than others and (Tuesday night) was a good example of that.”
Significant for the Habs is they outscored the Lightning 13-7 at 5-on-5. Even-strength scoring has been a weakness for the Habs the last few seasons (they were 26th in 5-on-5 goals in the regular season; 16th in 5-on-5 scoring ratio) and the ability to score at even-strength takes on more importance in the playoffs. They are tied with the San Jose Sharks – who have played one less game – for most 5-on-5 goals in the post-season.
Throw in the team’s scoring depth and those are all good trends for the Habs. It remains to be seen if they can continue to develop against either the Bruins or the Wings. The Bruins were the top team in the regular season in 5-on-5 scoring ratio; the Wings were 14th.
“You need contributions from each line; they each have a role to play,” said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien. “(Tuesday) night we got that and even our power play that was having some trouble scoring, but that we felt was going to break through because it was producing chances, managed to get the winning goal.”
The Canadiens caught some breaks against the Lightning. Not having goaltender Ben Bishop cost the Bolts a chance to be more competitive in the series, and Tampa Bay’s playoff inexperience – 12 players made their post-season debut in the series – was clearly evident.
“It’s not easy to win at this time of year and I think a lot of guys learned that,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. “For the most part, I think they out-worked us and out-competed us. They were the better team. Were we better in spurts or competed harder in spurts? Absolutely. We have that in us, we just didn’t show it for the four games. It’s tough when you’re playing in spurts.”
So now the Canadiens will settle in for what could as much as a 10-day break as the Bruins-Wings series (Boston is up 2-1) plays out. Game 5 – the shortest the series could go – would be Saturday. Game 6 is Monday and Game 7 Wednesday.
“We’ll be well prepared, I can tell you that,” said Therrien. “We’ll prepare this team well. As far as I’m concerned we won the series, but we haven’t accomplished what we set out to accomplish. For me this was a step, and we have another step to take.”
In the meantime, Habs fans can enjoy the possibilities. It’s been 21 years since the Canadiens last won the Stanley Cup and there’s been reminiscing about the club’s championship in 1993.
Canadiens forward Daniel Briere grew up a Canadiens fan in Gatineau, Que., and was playing Midget triple-A in the spring of 1993.
What does he remember about Montreal’s playoff run?
“When you have the confidence, magical things can happen,” he said. “That’s what I remember.”
The big reason the Montreal Canadiens swept the Tampa Bay Lightning in the opening round of the NHL playoffs was the incredibly balanced scoring the Habs got from their forward ranks. Here’s a look at how the Canadiens scoring in the sweep of the Lightning broken down by line (each player’s goals and assists in brackets next to his name; then line’s total):
1. Max Pacioretty (1-1) David Desharnais (1-1) Tomas Vanek (1-2) 3-4--7 Pacioretty scored his first playoff goal with the game-winner on the power play in Game 4.
2. Brandon Prust (0-1) Tomas Plekanec (2-1) Brendan Gallagher (3-2) 5-4--9 Gallagher has been dynamic and unstoppable going to the net.
3. Rene Bourque (3-0) Lars Eller (2-3) Brian Gionta (1-2) 6-5--11 Bourque and Eller were the revelations of the first round after awful regular seasons.
4. Dale Weise (1-1) Daniel Briere (1-1) Michael Bournival (0-1) 2-3--5 Weise delieverd the overtime winner in Game 1; Briere got Habs off to good start in Game 4.
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