Lightning aim for respect, not awe

TAMPA, Fla. -- Vinny Lecavalier anticipates some restless nights during the Tampa Bay Lightning's second-round playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens.

But don't mistake the Lightning center's anxiety for the typical jitters players experience before big games.

Lecavalier grew up in Montreal as a die-hard fan of the Canadiens and always struggles to contain his excitement before facing the team he idolized.

"It's special going up there during the regular season," Lecavalier said. "I can only imagine what it's going to be like in the playoffs."

The top-seeded Lightning began their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series Friday night with a dominating 4-0 shutout of the No. 7 seed Canadiens. In Game 2 on Sunday, the Bolts struck again, getting a 3-1 win before the series shifts to Montreal for Game 3 on Tuesday night.

"It's a dream come true to be able to play a playoff game in Canada, let alone the city of Montreal. ... It really is like playing the Yankees in baseball," Lightning center Brad Richards said.

"People say it's like football down here. But I say it's 10, 20 times more than that."

Like Lecavalier, NHL scoring champion Martin St. Louis grew up in the Montreal area, rooting for the Canadiens.

St. Louis, from Laval, Quebec, wears No. 26 because of Mats Naslund, one of the stars on Montreal's 1986 Stanley Cup championship team. Lecavalier wears No. 4 in honor of Hall of Famer Jean Beliveau, who played on 10 Cup winners.

Neither is concerned, though, that the Lightning will be consumed by the Canadiens' mystique as 23-time Stanley Cup champions or distracted by making their first postseason appearance in Canada.

"We respect it, but you can't go in there in awe," Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella said.

"Playing against a storied franchise, it's a great opportunity. ... We'll be focused. We'll be ready to play. If you had asked me two years ago if I was concerned, I would have said yes."

Two years ago, the Lightning finished third in the Southeast Division with just 69 points. They've won the Southeast title the past two seasons, and they led the Eastern Conference with 106 points this season.

"When you talk about a team with offensive power, this is it," Montreal defenseman Craig Rivet told The Canadian Press before the team boarded a plane for Florida. "It'll make for an interesting series. We feel we're a strong defensive team that waits for opportunities, while they're more of an offensive power team that wants to put a lot of pressure on the defense."

Although there's no comparison between the postseason histories of the teams -- Montreal is in the playoffs for the 75th time vs. the third time for Tampa Bay -- the Lightning are eager to prove their mettle after playing eventual Stanley Cup champion New Jersey tough in the East semifinals last year.

"You just don't get [a rich tradition] playing 15 or 16 playoff games," Tortorella said. "This is how you start to build. ... You have to start somewhere, just like Montreal had to start somewhere."

The Lightning eliminated the New York Islanders from the first round in five games, while the Canadiens overcame a 3-1 deficit for the first time to beat the Boston Bruins in seven games.

Tampa Bay and Montreal split four games during the regular season.

"I think it's going to be a great series. They're a resilient club. They've shown that all season," Tortorella said of the Canadiens.

"Like I've said, from one to eight [seed] in the East, it's anybody's game. They're a good team, and we're going to have to raise our play to another level to be successful in this round."