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Call of the Wilde: Tampa Bay Lightning dominate Habs 5-1 in Game 1 of Stanley Cup final

Only two NHL teams remain, and one is your Montreal Canadiens.

Despite what the pundits tell you, the Canadiens belong in this final. The Canadiens shut down two of the best teams in hockey this season, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Vegas Golden Knights. The final team in Montreal’s way is the defending champion: the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Game one in Florida was in front of a packed house as the Lightning dominated 5-1.

Wilde Horses 

All in all, it was a tough night to find a lot of players that shone, but there were some. Firstly, of course, there was Carey Price. He was stellar to keep it a hockey game into the third period. The best save that Price made was against Steve Stamkos who got a cross-seam pass from Victor Hedman to be standing in front of Price for three clean seconds. Stamkos fired the shot that he wanted, but Price flashed the glove to make a gorgeous save. Price did all that he could.

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Another strong Canadiens player was Brendan Gallagher who worked so hard and seemed to have the attention of the Lightning early. He never backed down and fought for every inch. He also had a partial breakaway that he was unable to convert with a checker draped all over him.

Read more: A life-long Montreal Canadiens fan on why this playoff run means so much

Late in the contest, down 4-1, Gallagher was still fighting for every inch. He got his helmet taken off and was then thrown to the ice head-first by Mikhail Sergachev. He was cut wide open with blood pouring off his face profusely, and he was still battling.

He wasn’t even concerned that blood was everywhere. Only Gallagher sends messages for game two down by three with five minutes left in game one.

Josh Anderson has had some difficulty getting points in the playoffs, but he has clearly been an important player. Anderson is one of the Canadiens players who is hard to play against. He is a big body out there and he is happy to throw it around to wear down an opponent.

Joel Edmundson has been such a rock in these playoffs. He just makes one superb decision after another. He plays big as well. Edmundson gets basically no ink, but he has been the best of the big four on defence for the Canadiens this playoff.

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In game one, all the Canadiens worked hard. Every single player had great desire and did not cut a single corner in commitment to the cause.  They all just found a lot of Tampa talent in front of them all the time.

Wilde Goats

This is going to be the biggest challenge of the playoffs for Montreal. Toronto was a strong regular season team. Vegas was close to the best regular season team. This Tampa team is the best playoff team. Some players get you to the playoffs and some get you through, and the Lightning are a whole lot of ‘through’.

Tampa on the cycle was much better in that component than the Canadiens have seen this playoff. They were able to keep the Canadiens in their zone most of the evening. Montreal was second on the puck, and chased regularly. If you play most of the game in your own zone, you are not likely to get the puck luck that is required to win the game.

Read more: Montreal Canadiens’ Dominique Ducharme to return to bench for Game 3 of final

Montreal gave it the usual complete effort, but they’ll have to figure out some things to tilt the ice back to at least neutral. For example, the Lightning are able to cross-seam pass extremely effectively. They also go to the front of the net on every single rush. There was not a single offensive zone possession that one of the Lightning forwards didn’t rush right to Price to get in his face. They are trying to take away Price’s eyes more than the other clubs so far.

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And that’s where we get to the to the playoffs and through the playoffs mantra. If Tampa is going to rush to the net to screen Price, then they have to pay the price that over the long run Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot, and Joel Edmundson dole out. Tampa has some small forwards, and they need to be black and blue when the game ends, so they aren’t so determined to take away Price’s eyes as the series progresses.

This looks like hockey in all its animalistic process playing out. If you want to go to the front of the net to hassle the goalie, you have to pay for it. Price is Montreal’s star player. Attacking Price’s skillset has to be taken as an affront, or you are already beaten.  Montreal has to make sure that Price is allowed to be Price. That means boxing out so he can see the shots, and inflicting physical damage so they are not as determined to knock into him.

When your best player is your goalie, it’s different than if he is a forward. Price being Price means all of his mates need to help him because he can’t clear out the crease when he has to stop the puck.

This is a best-of-seven and in game one, Tampa looked clearly better. However, it was 4-1 Vegas in the first game of the previous series. Montreal has adjusted well in the playoffs to what the first game plan of their opponent has been, and forced them to switch to a second and less effective game plan.

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The coaching staff has to go to work now. They need to assess what Tampa was able to do well and counteract it. For now, it looks like it is Tampa’s cup to win. But we have been down this road already against Toronto and against Vegas.

They weren’t given a chance, yet they won with adjustments. Time to adjust before game two.

Wilde Cards 

The Canadiens got yet another COVID-19 scare on Sunday. That’s their third and hopefully the last. Joel Armia was put in COVID-19 protocol, but that was all of the information that we learned from GM Marc Bergevin when he spoke on Sunday.

It was immediately surmised by many that it meant Armia had gotten the virus again, even though he had been fully vaccinated. There are breakthrough cases of the vaccine, but the percentage is extremely low to acquire it when vaccinated and within four months of already having it.

Read more: Habs not satisfied after surprise run to Stanley Cup final

The tell was in the wording: that Armia was ‘in the protocol’. Recently, when Dominique Ducharme got the virus, the league said that he tested positive. When Armia became a victim in March, it was also said that he tested positive.

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Being in protocol likely meant, in this instance, that he was either close to someone who got the virus and the league needed to contact trace, or there was something suspicious and inconclusive with his test on Saturday.

The news was good on Monday morning, allowing Armia to get on to a plane immediately from Montreal to Tampa as long as that was a private plane where he would not be in contact with the general public.

Armia arrived in time, but the Canadiens decided to not use him in his usual spot. They opted to bring Jake Evans back into the line-up. Everyone is thankful to avoid another COVID-19 catastrophe.

Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.

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