Margin for error is a big thing in sports. WIthout it, you have to be perfect in an imperfect game. The Montreal Canadiens found that out the hard way in Game 2 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Heading into Game 3 at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens basically have their backs against the wall in a must-win scenario on home ice. It will be Tampa Bay’s first trip outside the country this season, so maybe that will be the great equalizer.
We’ll have to wait and see, but in the meantime, we’ll have a pick and preview for you here of Game 3 between the Lightning and Canadiens on Friday July 2. Tampa Bay is -135 with a total of 5 at FanDuel Sportsbook.
Vasilevskiy Saves the Day
The Tampa Bay Lightning did not play particularly well in Game 2. The shots read 43-23 by the end, but Montreal only had one goal on the scoresheet. That is because Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall when his team needed him the most.
There aren’t many occurrences when Tampa Bay falls on the wrong side of the box score and especially not to that magnitude. While Montreal lacked quality scoring chances, holding only a 7-6 edge in high-danger chances at 5-v-5 over the Lightning, Vasilevskiy made the big saves when he needed to and gave his team the opportunity to win a game that maybe they shouldn’t have.
It has to be demoralizing for Montreal. Playing that well and still coming up short against the NHL’s best team is a hard pill to swallow, especially when the stakes are this high.
How Montreal responds will matter a lot in terms of how Game 3 plays out.
Timing is Everything
Maybe Game 2 has a different ending if the second period ends two seconds earlier. That is because Blake Coleman scored on a mental mistake from the Montreal defense, who relaxed before the buzzer sounded. That goal gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead and was a bitter outcome to what had been the best period of the series for the Habs.
It takes a really special kind of performance to beat the Lightning, a performance akin to what Montreal put forth in Game 2. The goal at the 19:58 mark deflated Montreal, who wound up playing a very even third period with Tampa Bay after being clearly the better team in the first two periods.
Once again, Montreal’s mental status is a big deal now going into Game 3. The series shifts home and the underdog role has been the Canadiens’ bread and butter in these playoffs.
Game 3 Preview
Tampa Bay did a lot of little things right in Game 1. They kept pucks deep in the offensive zone and prevented Montreal from getting any sort of transition game started. They played a really physical brand of hockey and blocked a lot of shots. They scored ugly goals and pretty goals.
Montreal adjusted to a lot of those things in Game 2. While they didn’t generate a lot of high-percentage scoring chances, neither did Tampa Bay. The zone exits and zone entries were easier for Montreal. They played a lot better in the neutral zone. They weren’t just a team trying to counterpunch. They were a team dictating the play.
They’ll have to do more of that on Friday night in the face of a Tampa Bay team not being used to getting outplayed or outshot. That means we should see a huge effort from the Lightning and some adjustments of their own. A 5-1 win in Game 1 may have bred some overconfidence. A 3-1 win in Game 2 that didn’t look nearly as pretty as the final score would suggest humbled the Bolts a bit.
Game 3 Lightning vs. Canadiens Pick
The series price and the lines for the first two games have actually seemed cheap for Tampa Bay. The travel up to Montreal will be something of a shock to the system for the Bolts, especially with more stringent COVID protocols north of the border, but that isn’t enough to close the gap here. Many would say that Montreal played as well as possible in Game 2 and still lost.
We know Tampa Bay was not a team at its best in that game. We should see much better on Friday.