A quick rundown of all that’s on the table tonight when the Habs host the Lightning at the Bell Centre:
— With a regulation win, Tampa Bay can draw even with Montreal on 90 points atop the Atlantic Division.
— With any sort of win, Montreal moves into first place in the NHL.
— Montreal swept Tampa Bay 4-0 in the opening round of last year’s playoffs. This season, the Lightning have returned the favor, sweeping both matchups (by a combined score of 11-3.)
Needless to say, this evening’s affair promises to be engaging.
Just ask the Bolts.
“There’s a lot at stake,” Brian Boyle said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “Everyone’s jockeying for position.”
“This is a big test,” added Steve Stamkos. “We realize how tight it is in our division, and obviously playing head-to-head is a big swing.”
Montreal players seem to recognize the significance of what the Bolts represent as well. While the Habs have run roughshod against the Eastern Concerence this year — they’re 14-2-1 against the six other teams currently in playoff position — their inability to handle Tampa Bay has stuck out.
“We haven’t had very much success against them in the two games,” Brendan Gallagher explained, per NHL.com. “They really dominated us in all facets of the game, so we want to come out and show that wasn’t us either.
“We want to change the storyline a little bit.”
Finally, tonight’s game represents a chance for both teams to roll out their latest acquisitions. Given that this is the first of three more meetings this season — Montreal and Tampa Bay play again on Mar. 16, then again on the 30th — the new faces will have plenty of opportunities to experience this simmering rivalry: Montreal will trot out Jeff Petry, Devante Smith-Pelly, Jacob De La Rose, Torrey Mitchell and Bryan Flynn for the first time against Tampa Bay, while the Bolts will send out d-man Braydon Coburn and, possibly, forward Vladislav Namestnikov, who could draw in for the injured J.T. Brown.