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Lightning look for answers to Canadiens’ aggressive fore-check

Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat checks Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban into the boards during Game 1 of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Tampa Bay Times Forum.


You'd think that with one puck, 12 players, and a sheet of ice, there would be a limit to the number of permutations.

Hockey, as its practitioners keep saying, is a simple game.

Until you make the playoffs and it isn't.

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There are indeed a dizzying number of tactical and strategic options, and the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning will surely be exploring some of them in Game 2 of their series Friday (7 p.m., CBC, RDS).

In the postseason, he who is able to adjust usually wins, and the Lightning – penned in their end for long stretches in Game 1 by a Montreal team that has only intermittently shown a strong possession game this season – will attempt to tweak their approach.

"I just think we could have had a little better poise under pressure in some instances. It was a combination, I don't think our D were moving it fast enough, I don't think our forwards were helping out," coach Jon Cooper said. "I think we played right in to Montreal's game plan."

On the off-day, the Lightning practised their break-outs, neutral-zone regroups and zone entries, Cooper is evidently considering options to deal with the more-aggressive-than-usual Montreal fore-check in Game 1.

Because the Lightning's Ondrej Palat is a game-time decision (Cooper said he's unlikely to play), the first new wrinkle the Habs may have to deal with is a lineup that includes 11 forwards and seven defencemen, an uncommon set-up that the Bolts have used in nearly half their games this year.

"It gives you a little different dynamic," Cooper said.

Anders Lindback is expected to start in goal once again, he will face Carey Price, the Habs will likely ice the same lineup as Game 1, although injury returnee Brandon Prust, who was on the ice for a pair of Tampa goals, may be bumped down from the second line, where he played most of the night, to a more sheltered role.

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One of the things Montreal will surely try to replicate from game one is the relentless pressure it applied to Tampa's defencemen and the neutral-zone back-pressure it used to decent effect – though the game ended 5-4, the Habs had a decided advantage in shots and scoring chances – earlier in the week.

"It forces them to skate into us as defencemen, it takes away their time from trying to move laterally. If we do create a loose puck or even a turnover, we're all close together for tight support and going the other way," said Montreal defenceman Josh Gorges.

The veteran blueliner allowed that reproducing the game one approach is "easy in theory, maybe" but that in reality the challenges are constant.

While teams can bring in-game adjustments during television timeouts and intermissions, it's hard to do it on the bench and impossible to do it on the ice.

"That's why I think it's so important to be the team that dictates the pace of play, dictates what's going on. If you play on your heels, sitting back and allowing them to do what they're doing, now you're forcing yourself to make adjustments," he said.

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