Friday, April 23, 2004

Struck by Lightning!

Three consecutive wins over an ancient rival must have exhausted the Montreal Canadiens both physically and mentally, for Friday night belonged to the Lightning. Game one was all Tampa Bay, from the net minding of Nickolai Khabibulan to the scoring machine of Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa was firing on all cylinders in an impressive 4-0 shutout of Montreal.

Nickolai Khabibulan played like the ghost of Georges Vezina in his fourth shut out this playoff season, 21 shots and no goals the story line for Khabibulan Friday night, needing only two periods to put in a good night. Tampa’s defensive play held Montreal to only five shots in period number three, as close to coasting as a goaltender can get.

At the other end of the rink, Jose Theodore must have felt like an abandoned puppy left in a field, Tampa rolled over the blue line time and time again, controlling the first eight minutes of the game not giving the Habs a chance to take a shot in anger. Theodore held the Lightning off the scoreboard through the first, but a horrible second period left the Habs 2 goals down heading into the third. Theodore made an untimely error fumbling for his stick on the Lightning first goal, as Ruslan Fedotenko took advantage of the mistake to put the puck in the back of the net. Vincent Lecavalier put in a deflection late in the second to put the Bolts up by two, and then scored again early in the third, with a bad goal through Theodore’s legs to add an insurance marker. Dimitry Afanasenkov scored with twelve minutes to go and that was it for Theodore. Mathieu Garon was put in to finish off the game, managing to hold off the Lightning for the remainder of the third. Theodore’s stats for the night 24 shots and 4 goals against, Garon 10 shots and 0 goals, though to be fair by the mid part of the third the Lightning were mailing in the rest of the game.

A terrible start to the second round, but many Habs were already thinking ahead to game two. Writing off the first game much as they did the first one of the Boston series, another game they were totally outplayed in. With two days now to review, it will be interesting to see how both teams come out on Sunday. Tampa will want to jump on the Habs quickly to recapture their domination of Friday. The Habs will be interested in getting back into the game, shaking off their shaky debut and taking the home ice advantage away with a win. For Montreal they need look no further back than two weeks, they’ll want to avoid going down 3-1 to this Lightning team, Khabibulan is not likely to lose three in a row. The Habs had best get busy gaining their wins early and often.

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