The Montreal Canadiens have an opportunity to take a 2-0 series lead on the road tonight in Tampa Bay, and that opportunity became greater this afternoon when Lightning head coach Jon Cooper announced Ondrej Palat is unlikely to play in game two.
Palat played just over 14 minutes before leaving game one after taking a hit from Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban in the second period. His status is shrouded in the usual playoff mystery around injuries this time of year, but Cooper acknowledged this afternoon he will be a game time decision, though he is unlikely to play.
Palat was a huge surprise for the Lightning this season. He was selected in the 7th round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, but led the Lightning in points this season. Part of that is due to the fact Martin St Louis was dealt at the trade deadline, and Steven Stamkos missed half of the season with injury, but Palat’s 59 points placed him atop the Lightning regular season scoring chart.
He started game one on the top line with Stamkos and another Lightning super rookie, Tyler Johnson. Alex Killorn, who scored a goal and assist in the series opener, will replace Palat on Stamkos wing tonight. Former Canadiens Tom Pyatt will draw into the Tampa Bay lineup for game two.
The Lightning are already without number one goaltender Ben Bishop, and will now be missing their leading scorer as well. This is a huge opportunity for the Canadiens to take a two game series lead before heading back to Montreal for game three on Sunday night.
If Montreal does not win tonight and fail to advance past the Lightning in round one, they may look back on this game as a huge opportunity missed.