Canadiens doomed by poor puck management in Game 1

Josh Anderson sees the Canadiens’ 5-1 defeat to the Lightning in Game 1 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final in two ways. It was a game to forget, one where costly turnovers sunk Montreal. But there was plenty to remember about Monday night’s performance, like each mistake made during the game that can be improved going forward.

Tampa Bay’s opening two goals were the result of bad lateral passes that were picked off by Lightning players. Both began in the offensive zone with the Canadiens getting caught flat-footed as their opponents went on the transition. 

If you’re going to beat this Lightning team, you have to take care of the puck. The Canadiens know they didn’t do that well enough Monday night and vowed to be better in that area for Game 2 (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET; NBCSN / Peacock)

“That’s a team that thrives on turnovers”  said Montreal defenseman Ben Chiarot. “They’re pretty quick at coming back the other way every time there’s a turnover at their blue line. That’s definitely something we have to be aware of and make sure we’re a littler smarter with the puck.”

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For all of their errors, the Canadiens had chances to get back into the game. But Nikita Kucherov’s goal immediately after an offensive zone face-off put Montreal on its heels and ended with them forcing pucks to create chances.

The scoreline may have been 5-1, but the Canadiens know a few bounces their way and it’s a different game.

“We had chances when the game was tighter,” said defenseman Jeff Petry. “We bury those chances and it’s a different game. [After Tampa Bay’s third goal] we tried to push things. They’re a team that feeds off transition and turnovers. When you’re forcing things that’s what’s going to happen. I don’t think it was a blowout by any means. I think we can be better and we’re looking to rebound for Game 2.”

In assistant coach Luke Richardson’s view, there wasn’t enough movement going forward for the Canadiens to create any high-danger scoring opportunities. Montreal lacked speed and motion, which opened the door for the Lightning to force turnovers.

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Montreal also didn’t adjust well when their passes didn’t result in opportunities, nor did they find ways to get to the net and create traffic in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy, who finished with 18 saves.

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Richardson wants to see Montreal get pucks behind the Tampa Bay defensemen if the rush game must adjust when outlets dry up. The Lightning can transition quickly the other way, and being caught flat-footed after turning the puck over will not end well more often than not.

The Canadiens aren’t sweating, though. It’s only one loss and now that they’ve seen what the Lightning can do in the flesh it’s time to limit the mistakes and adjust where needed. Richardson knows his team has plenty more to give.

“The positives, we didn’t play our best game. We know we can get better,” he said. “By us playing better and managing the puck better and limiting those mistakes and creating a little bit more ourselves, I think we have a good way to go up.”

2021 NHL playoff schedule: Stanley Cup Final – (TB leads 1-0) series livestream link

Game 1: Lightning 5, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Wed. June 30: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 3: Fri. July 2: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 4: Mon. July 5: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 5: Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 6: Fri. July 9: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 7: Sun. July 11: Canadiens at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (NBC)

*if necessary

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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