Monday night was Montreal's last chance for redemption against Tampa Bay, as they hoped to avoid a regular season sweep by their divisional foes. They started off the game with several strong shifts, but a slew of penalties turned the tide, forcing Carey Price to keep his team in the game.
Price delivered, and Montreal responded in style, earning a few scoring chances before the period was out, however the teams went to the first intermission without a goal to report.
Unfortunately for the Habs one of the sloppiest line changes since Sergei Kostitsyn played in the NHL occurred, leaving Vladislav Namestnikov undefended, which quickly turned into a 1-0 lead for the Lightning.
A Dale Weise double minor put the Habs in a terrible position, but the terrific penalty killing duo of Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty came to the rescue, scoring a timely shorthanded goal that temporarily tied the game. With all the line shuffling this season, it's probably safe to say that those two have been Montreal's most reliable, and possibly most consistent, line of the year. They seem to produce at least one shorthanded scoring opportunity per game whilst providing solid defensive play.
Michel Lacroix hardly had time to announce the goal before the Bolts struck back. Anton Stralman found Jonathan Drouin on the Habs' blue line with a perfect pass, which led to yet another breakaway. Drouin, with his silky smooth hands, made no mistake, beating Price with a series of quick feints. The Habs have made a habit of allowing a plethora of odd-man rushes every game, the main difference last night was that Price failed to make a series of superhuman saves that would normally keep Montreal in the game.
Tampa did not take their foot off the gas following the Drouin goal, capping off their dominant period with a late marker. The goal itself was a perfect example of an issue that's been troubling the Canadiens all season. Markov tried to clear the zone, but all three forwards were already in the neutral zone. Tampa capitalized on the odd-man advantage, as Nikita Kucherov put home his 28th goal of the year. The Bolts held a 10-1 scoring chance advantage in the second.
The third period started off perfectly for Montreal, with Jeff Petry scoring his first in a Canadiens uniform. It was a quick wrist shot from the point, which deflected off Stamkos' stick, cutting Tampa's lead to one.
Namestnikov restored the two-goal lead shortly thereafter, crushing Montreal's comeback hopes. A late goal by Subban made things interesting, but Anton Stralman's empty-net effort sealed the deal for the Lightning, completing the five game regular season sweep.
-The Habs played well during some shifts, but once again they ended up on the wrong side of a rather convincing Tampa Bay Lightning effort. The Canadiens have allowed more than 38 shots against on average during their five games with Tampa Bay, and should count their lucky stars that a first round match up in the playoffs isn't in the cards this season.
-Lars Eller played a solid game. He did his best to create scoring chances, and seemed to attack Tampa's net during every shift.
-Greg Pateryn is establishing himself as a solid presence on the blue line, even though he miscalculated a hit which led to a Tampa Bay goal. He's been laying down big hits on a nightly basis since his call up.
- Bishop earned two assists in five minutes. That type of production would get him promoted to the first line with the Canadiens.
- The Habs have one zone exit strategy, and that involves ringing the puck around the boards, losing possession in the neutral zone, and resuming defensive play. It's an incredibly frustrating strategy to watch, especially against teams that know it's coming, like the Bolts did last night. They tend to do the same thing once they gain the offensive zone, but that's a whole other issue.
- It's always fun to end on a high note, which means a stick tap goes out to Subban for tying his career high in goals, 14, and reaching a new high in points, with 54.
The Habs will be back in action on Thursday, as they host Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.