The Canadiens-Lightning series was supposed to be a battle between two of the names in the league’s Vezina Trophy conversation. Both Carey Price and Ben Bishop had similar numbers, win totals and played some of their best hockey when they stood in opposing creases. The series had every precursor of a historic goaltending battle in the making.
But the dynamic and landscape of that battle quickly changed when it became apparent that Bishop would not be starting the series as a result of injuries (sports injury alert), replaced instead by Anders Lindback. Lindback, originally Tampa’s solution as a starting goaltender before Bishop was brought in, had been very questionable when playing in 2013-14.
Despite a very good ending to the season, Lindback was clearly a step down from Bishop between the pipes. With him in net, few gave the Lightning the same chance they would have with Bishop. The opinion was that without their clear season MVP the Lightning would not been able to shut down Montreal’s offense like they had in previous meetings.
Fast-forward three games and the Lightning have given up a 3-0 series lead to the Canadiens. The reaction is to say that it is as a result of the loss of Bishop, but that would be unfair to the efforts of Lindback. In many ways, Lindback has been the exception to a very weak effort from the team in front of him.
Numbers wise, Lindback has little to show for his efforts: a subpar GAA of 3.49 and a save percentage of .888. He has let in a lot of soft goals at key moments that have truly been back breakers for the Lightning. He was pulled in Game 2 after allowing a very stoppable effort from Brendan Gallagher to beat him.
However, there are many more points in his defense. Lindback has faced 98 shots so far in just three games. In numbers that equates to 33 shots per game, and in words: too many. Only four teams gave up more during the regular season this year.
Furthermore, assessing the goals that have been scored on Lindback, it is clear the defensive effort has been questionable at best. The first goal scored on him was as a result of Radko Gudas allowing Tomas Plekanec a free pass into the slot. Brian Gionta scored on a shorthanded breakaway. Thomas Vanek beat a defenceman to the net on a 2 on 2 with David Desharnais. The overtime winner in Game 1 was the result of Dale Weise being left completely open in front of the net.
In game 2 Sami Salo allowed Rene Bourque to skate completely around him and gifted him a chance on Lindback. One could literally see the fire ignite under Bourque as he poked the puck past Lindback’s stick. Less than 11 seconds into Game 3 Bourque scored on a breakaway as a result of a terrible defensive miscue, this was one of the many breakaways the Habs have been allowed in the series.
Backup goalie Kristers Gudlevskis was given a taste of Lindback’s woes when the latter was pulled in Game 2. The result was the aforementioned Bourque beating the young Latvian on the first shot he faced after blowing by a Tampa defenseman before scoring on a wraparound.
In every game the Canadiens have come out on top in terms of possession. The corsi and fenwick scores for all three games heavily favour the Habs. In that way Tampa really needs to look to their entire team’s performance as the reason they are down 3-0 in the series, and not blame things on a Ben Bishop injury.
At the other end of the ice, after a mediocre game one, Carey Price has been incredibly solid. His playoff abilities have been questioned consistently, and were not helped by a poor performance last year against Ottawa. But he has done plenty to quiet doubters this year as he has been calm and composed throughout.
In a goaltending battle that was supposed to be far more central to this series he has been the clear winner, at no fault to his adversary. The first game notwithstanding, Price has also had an excellent defensive effort around him, giving him a relatively unfair handicap. He’s been solid in stopping the chances the Lightning have gotten in the last two games, but the fact remains the Lightning are not getting the sheer number of chances nor the quality of chances that the Canadiens are generating.
What was supposed to be a low scoring affair has been anything but: one team has benefited from this fact, the other is on the brink of elimination.
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