Monday night's game was the epitome of a playoff atmosphere match up. The Canadiens and Lightning renewed hostilities, as the familiar foes met for the fourth time this season. The Habs needed to come up with a much better effort after dropping the first three meetings by a combined score of 12-3.
As has been the case in virtually every game the Canadiens have played during this campaign, they allowed their opponents to score the first goal.
Valtteri Filpulla's pass attempt deflected off a sprawling Andrei Markov, fooling Carey Price as he shifted towards the intended pass target.
What happened next was an uncanny scenario. Throughout the year Max Pacioretty has been rightfully praised as a defensive stalwart, but on this very rare occasion he absolutely botched the play. What's worse, is that his misguided pass went to none other than Steven Stamkos, who made no mistake. Pacioretty doesn't make many errors, but he'll surely remember this one.
There's no doubt about it, Pacioretty made a glaring error, although considering he's generally Montreal's only source of offense, we'll have to give him a pass this time, especially as he's been quietly putting together a very solid season in the defensive side of his play.
The Lightning were not done there, they would eventually make it 3-0, on the back of Herculean Victor Hedman effort. The defenceman outworked Tom Gilbert, earning his way to a victorious one-on-one showdown with Price. Despite the shots being relatively even, at this point Tampa Bay was firmly in control of the game.
The night started to heat up following some Brandon Prust shenanigans, and the ensuing Brendan Gallagher vs Vladislav Namestnikov fight only added more fuel to the fire. Seemingly inspired by Gallagher's boxing prowess, Montreal finally broke the ice, albeit with a dash of luck. Tomas Plekanec managed to bank the puck off Bishop's stick, netting his 21st goal of the year.
Early in the third period Montreal cut the lead to one, due to some particularly efficient forechecking by the aforementioned Plekanec. He intercepted a fumbled puck behind the net, redirecting it towards the crease, where a waiting P.A. Parenteau pounced. It was his seventh of the season, and first goal since November 28. Let's hope the monkey that lived on his back didn't get too comfortable, because he'll need to find a new place to stay.
That would be as close as the Canadiens got to erasing the lead, although it has to be said they did see an uptick in scoring chances, as is usually the case when you're losing the game. Stamkos would add his second goal of the night, in an empty-net, ensuring Tampa Bay won their fourth consecutive game against the Habs.
The major positive of the evening, was that for once this season, Montreal wasn't blown out of the water by the team they swept last Spring in the playoffs. Bishop was forced to make a few quality saves, and despite never leading the Habs did manage to claw their way back into the game.
In his first game back from injury Alexei Emelin looked very rusty, but we should note that his pairing with Greg Pateryn was the only one to finish the game with a positive Corsi, despite starting the majority of their shifts in the defensive zone. On the flip side of the coin, the promising pairing of Jeff Petry and Tom Gilbert struggled. They didn't seem very comfortable playing Michel Therrien's chip-and-chase defensive breakout strategy, which resulted in a fair amount of neutral zone interceptions by the Lightning.
Montreal will have one more shot at redemption on the 30th of March, when they'll face Tampa for the fifth and final time this season, but they'll have to focus on immediate the tasks at hand if they hope to stay in the race for first in the Eastern Conference race. Next up is Florida this evening, followed by the Hurricanes on Thursday.