The Tampa Bay Lightning will get another crack at clinching the Stanley Cup on Wednesday night when they return home for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Montreal Canadiens (8 p.m. ET; NBC/Peacock; Livestream).
They do not need to overthink their game plan because a repeat of their Game 4 effort should — emphasis on should! — be enough to bring the Stanley Cup back to Tampa Bay for a second straight season.
Their Game 4 loss on Monday was not necessarily the result of a bad game plan, or a bad effort, or bad play. It was simply an illustration of how much hockey can be a game of inches. It was a winning process that did not produce a winning result. Sometimes that happens.
It was partly Carey Price playing his best game of the series for Montreal.
It was also partly the Lightning not having any puck luck on their sides and hitting the post three times, including one in the closing minutes on a Nikita Kucherov deflection that was a quarter of an inch away from being the game-winning (and Stanley cup clinching) goal.
[NHL ON NBC STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
The result will take away from the fact it was probably Tampa Bay’s best game of the series from a numbers and territorial perspective.
During 5-on-5 play they…
- Had a 50-33 edge in total shot attempts
- A 23-14 edge in shots on goal
- A 20-15 scoring chance advantage
- A 14-4 high-danger chance advantage
- And a 2.76 to 1.14 expected goals edge
They not only completely controlled the pace of the game, they did so at a level they did not previously achieve in any of their three wins in the series or at any other time in the playoffs. Montreal held its own through the first two games of the series in terms of chances and territorial play, but it really started to shift in Tampa Bay’s favor starting with its Game 3 win.
[Lightning’s Alex Killorn doubtful for Game 5 of Stanley Cup Final]
The Lightning’s effort in Game 4 should have been enough to produce a win, and in most situations it would have. Because they were not only better, they were playing at an incredibly high level even by their own high standard.
For some perspective on that: Before Monday’s game, teams that had an expected goals edge as significant as Tampa’s was in Game 4 (more than a 70 percent share) were 6-1 this postseason, with the only loss coming in overtime (just as Tampa Bay’s Game 4 loss was).
Expecting an exact repeat of that is asking a lot because, for starters, that’s an incredibly high bar to reach, and also because Montreal is going to be in complete desperation mode. Do not be surprised if the Canadiens to slow the game down to a low-even crawl to limit Tampa Bay’s chances, avoid the mistakes that plagued them in Games 1-3, and try to get the series back to Montreal for a Game 6 on Friday night. The main takeaway, though, is that even though the Lightning were on the losing end of Game 4 and missed the opportunity to get the sweep the performance was still good enough to win.
Over the past two games combined the Lightning have controlled more than 60 percent of the total scoring chances, 65 percent of the expected goals, and 70 percent of the high-danger chances. They are getting stronger as the series goes on.
It is the type of effort that if they can repeat it will probably lead to a different result and a couple of trophies being handed out.
(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)
2021 NHL playoff schedule: Stanley Cup Final – (TB leads 3-1)
Game 1: Lightning 5, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Lightning 3, Canadiens 1
Game 3: Lightning 6, Canadiens 3
Game 4: Canadiens 3, Lightning 2 (OT)
*Game 5: Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 6: Fri. July 9: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 7: Sun. July 11: Canadiens at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.