Leading Stanley Cup contenders Montreal will head to Tampa Bay for what could be an eye opener ahead of the playoffs. The Canadiens, currently 11/1 to win the Stanley Cup with bet365, are currently sitting pretty at the top of the East’s Atlantic Division and another win over a close rival will cement their position in the rankings. For Tampa, defeat will seriously hinder their chances of sneaking into the postseason.
Claude Julien’s men are in decent form, winning six of their last 10 outings – a decent run ahead of the playoffs. Momentum is key in ice hockey and nobody will want to face the Canadiens at Centre Bell. Historically, Montreal areone of the most successful franchises in the National Hockey League with 23 Stanley Cup wins and they will be keen to extend that tally to 24 in the coming months.
Offensively, Montreal are one of the strongest teams in the league and Tampa Bay will need to remain focused on the task at hand to restrict Julien’s attacking unit. This will be their first road game in over two weeks after a six-game run on home ice but the Canadiens will be quietly confident of securing a crucial win; they’re in great form right now.
KEY MAN: Max Pacioretty. The Canadiens team captain has racked up an impressive points tally so far this campaign and his total of 61 is way clear of second placed Alexander Radulov. In recent weeks, Pacioretty has been close to his brilliant best – scoring twice and assisting two more in his last three appearances.
Pacioretty has notched at least one point in each of his two appearances against Tampa Bay already this season and it would be foolish to rule him out in this contest. Montreal will rely on their main man to perform well if they are to emerge victorious.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Meanwhile, the hosts have got it all to do if they are to embark on a late surge towards the playoffs. To be fair, Tampa are on a four-match winning run and Lightning supporters will be quietly confident of beating their divisional rivals on home ice. Jon Cooper won’t be booking any holidays just yet; the Lightning could spoil the playoff party with a wildcard spot.
Defensively, Tampa might not be up to the task. They have allowed 213 goals this season; 23 more than Montreal have conceded. On their day, the Lightning are capable of competing with the best teams in the NHL but this will be very difficult, especially if the buoyant visitors go for the jugular early on.
KEY MAN: Nikita Kucherov. To win matches in the NHL, you need to hit the back of the net and not many do that better than Kucherov. As of March 31st, only Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby has scored more goals – and that shows just how important and influential he is to Tampa’s success.
Perhaps most impressive of all, Kucherov ranks fifth in the NHL in terms of points yet he has featured in just 68 games. In his last five outings, Kucherov has scored SEVEN goals and notched four assists and Montreal will need to keep tabs on his whereabouts at all times.
Siding with away sides in the NHL is risky business but Montreal should have too much for Tampa if they bring their A-Game. The Lightning have won their last four but all runs come to an end at some point and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see the visitors extend their own unbeaten spell at Amalie Arena. If they keep Kucherov quiet, the Canadiens should claim another win.
CANADIENS 4-2 LIGHTNING