The Montreal Canadiens took a 2-0 series stranglehold on the Tampa Bay Lightning last night, heading into the Tampa Bay Time Forum and winning a pair of games on the road to open the series.
This first round matchup returns to Montreal for games 3 and 4 on Sunday and Tuesday night, where the Habs could wrap things up if they take care of business at home like they did on the road.
What makes this accomplishment even more impressive is the the Lightning had a record of 25-10-6 at home this season, the third best record a host had in the Eastern Conference.
However, the series is far from over.
The last time the Canadiens opened a series with a pair of road victories was in 2011, when they headed into Boston and shut down the Bruins to take a 2-0 series edge heading back to Montreal for game 3. It was not long before the Canadiens were trailing the series 3 games to 2, and would eventually fall on a Nathan Horton overtime winner in game 7. The Bruins would go on to win the Stanley Cup that spring.
In 2006, the Habs headed to Carolina, and torched the host for 12 goals and a pair of wins, in the first two games in Carolina. However, the Canadiens were unable to hold serve when the series shifted to Montreal and Caw Ward replaced Martin Gerber in goal. The Habs lost four straight, and scored only five more goals in the series, after Saku Koivu was injured by a Justin Williams high stick and lost for the remainder of the season.
The story was much the same back in 1996 when the Habs opened the playoffs in New York, and took games one and two at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers returned the favor in Montreal for games 3 and 4 and would take the series in 6 games.
The lesson to learn here is that a series is far from over, even if a team steals the first two games on the road. The difference between this year’s version of the Habs, and the teams that blew 2-0 series leads in 1996, 2006 and 2011 is that they were huge underdogs, and no is surprised that the 2014 Habs have a two game series lead.
Montreal finished 6 points back of the Rangers in 1996, and were facing a team very similar to the one that won the Cup just two years prior. In 2006, the Hurricanes were one of the best teams in the league, finishing 19 points ahead of Montreal, and in 2011, the Habs were 7 point underdogs to the Bruins and were without Max Pacioretty and Andrei Markov.
This year, things are different. Montreal finished just one point back of the Lightning in the standings, and now it is their opponent fighting the injury bug. Starting goalie Ben Bishop and top scorer Ondrej Palat missed game two and could be out for most of the series.
The Canadiens are not out of the woods yet, but they are certainly in the driver’s seat.