Habs credit balanced attack for 3-0 series lead over Lightning
MONTREAL — When Lars Eller and Rene Bourque are outscoring anyone on the top line, you know that something is going right for the Montreal Canadiens.
But it took until the playoffs for the Canadiens to find the balanced attack they have sought all season.
Getting offensive production from all four forward lines has helped them win the opening three games of their first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
They can sweep the best-of-seven series with a win on Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.
“That’s a big strength,” Eller said Monday. “I can’t stress how important it is to have everybody involved, everybody contributing.”
Players who underachieved on attack all season, notably Eller and Bourque, have found new life in the post-season. It has helped the normally low-scoring Canadiens average four goals per game against the Bolts, who are missing top goaltender Ben Bishop to an arm injury.
Bourque, a two-time 27-goal scorer who had a dreadful campaign of only nine goals, has three in as many games in the playoffs while playing left wing with centre Eller and right-winger Brian Gionta.
Eller, who had 12 goals in 77 games including stretch of 24 games with only one assist, has two goals and shares the team scoring lead with four points with Brendan Gallagher and defenceman P.K. Subban.
The Eller line has produced five goals, one more than Gallagher’s unit with Tomas Plekanec and Brandon Prust.
The top line of David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek has scored only twice, but has combined for 29 shots in three games.
The fourth line of Daniel Briere with Michael Bournival and Dale Weise has only one goal, but it was a big one as Weise scored in overtime in Game 1.
“Right now we have momentum and we’re riding that wave,” said Eller. “We knew depth was going to be important and I think a big part of why we’re having success is we have all four lines contributing in one way or another.
“I guess the playoffs are just bringing out the best in all of us.”
The Lightning are aware they have dug themselves a deep hole.
Only three teams have ever come back from a three-game deficit to win an NHL playoff series, most recently the Philadelphia Flyers against Boston in the second round in 2010. The Canadiens are 31-0 when holding a 3-0 lead.
Tampa Bay had its best outing in Game 3 on Sunday night, but dropped a 3-2 decision. They thought they had a 2-1 lead in the second period, but Ryan Callahan’s goal was waived off due to Alex Killorn’s incidental contact on goalie Carey Price.
“That was obviously a tough one to swallow,” said Lightning star Steven Stamkos. “A couple of calls didn’t go our way.
“We can’t dwell on it now. We realize the situation we’re in. We just have to win one game. Our backs are against the wall. I’m pretty sure you’re going to see a good effort from us. That’s our motto right now: Just win one, then let’s go back home and see what happens.”
Some wondered if Stamkos would be fit to play after taking an accidental knee to the head from Canadiens defenceman Alexei Emelin late in the second period. He returned for the third, but admitted later he took a major whack to the head.
“I feel pretty good so, yeah, I’m expecting to play,” he said. “I got tangled up with Prust there and slid in. I don’t think Emelin saw me and I got a pretty good knee to the head. Now that I saw it, I don’t think there was any intention or anything.”