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(Paul Chiasson)
(Paul Chiasson)

Lightning sure to win the psychological battle Add to ...

The official conclusion of hockey season in Quebec is typically marked when the Habs are eliminated.

Not this year.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, envied by some around these parts as the team that Montreal could have had with a canny trade or two, have become Quebec's team.

All the major media organizations have sent reporters and columnists to cover the series with Washington, the games are being broadcast in French, and there is considerable buzz among sports fans in Montreal and beyond about Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and the rest of coach Guy Boucher's squad.

Because this is, above all, a Boucher team.

The Dutch humanist Erasmus said that in the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king, so surely it follows that in a universe of head games, the guy with the masters degree in head-shrinking is going to come out on top, no?

And this has been the playoffs of nailin' 'em right in the mind, as one of the Hanson brothers memorably remarked.

From Mark Recchi saying the pressure was on the Montreal Canadiens when Boston came into town facing an 0-2 deficit, to Mike Gillis ragging on the refs (and Nashville's like-for-like retort on Tuesday), to Pete Laviolette saying the pressure is now on Boston (what, is there a manual that specifies that's the terminology to use when your team is down 0-2?)

Not to forget Boucher's David-versus-Goliath line at the outset of the Washington series.

Boucher was snubbed as a finalist for the Jack Adams trophy for coach of the year - an egregious oversight considering that in his first NHL coaching gig he has brought the Lightning from bottom-feeder to finishing within four points of conference-leading Washington.

But ask his players and they'll tell you his greatest asset is his meticulous and demanding approach and his ability to get the most out of each of them - the sports psychologist is an expert at getting people to want to play their best for him.

So Ovie can carry on all he wants with his this-isn't-overs and his we're-gonna-wins, the fact is none of that mental gamesmanship is going to hold any truck with the rather intense-looking guy behind the other bench.

It's not like the Caps haven't demonstrated a little fragility between the ears when confronted with a relentless foe and a hot goalie. Add in the fact that Lecavalier seems to be back to his fearsome best, that Steven Stamkos is scoring for fun again, and suddenly that rickety defence doesn't look like such a huge problem any more.

Maybe Washington comes out like gangbusters and staves off elimination Wednesday. But the psychological battle, and the series, will surely be Tampa's.

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