To avoid falling into a 0-3 series deficit, the Habs would have to reach deep into their bag of tricks, and finally start producing quality scoring chances. Throughout the first two games Montreal held the possession and scoring chance advantage, but the quality was not there.
On Wednesday night the Habs bucked the trend, and finally started getting solid chances against the red hot Ben Bishop.
The first good scoring chance came from a P.K. Subban crossbar, however it was actually Tampa that would take the lead. Montreal native Alex Killorn took advantage of some sloppy defensive play, which included a few failed clearing chances, beating Carey Price glove side. The period finished with Tampa Bay lead, but the Habs were the better team.
The second period was scoreless, although not from a lack of opportunities for Montreal. First Brendan Gallagher was frustrated by Bishop, and then it was Dale Weise who whiffed on a perfect setup by David Desharnais. The letdowns continued for the Habs, culminating in Jeff Petry's post midway through the second. Once again, the Habs were the better team, a point made clear when Tampa failed to register a shot through 16 minutes of the frame, but Bishop was in god mode, foiling any decent chance the Canadiens had.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, Montreal's powerplay continued to struggle, but the strong play of birthday boy Gallagher would finally pay off, tying the game midway through the third, and earning the Habs' fourth goal of the series.
For once in the series it seemed as if the Hockey Gods were giving the Canadiens a break. With a few seconds left to play in the game, overtime was looming, and all thoughts turned to picking an sudden-death winner.
Tyler Johnson, on the other hand, had heartbreak on the mind, as he scored the game-winning goal with only a second left, sending the Habs into shock. Just like that, Montreal went from being in a perfect position to turn the series around, to standing on the brink of disaster. The organization deserved better. The skaters deserved better. Carey Price deserved better.
The result was so cruel that it was as if George R.R. Martin wrote the script to this game. If this was an episode of the Simpsons, Bart would have paused the tape just as Johnson scored.
And that's the beautiful part about sports, isn't it? The beautiful, soul-crushing side of sports that reminds us that probability doesn't mean destiny. That one or two failed defensive assignments are enough to foil a fantastic effort. That for every celebration there's the possibility of a disastrously painful outcome. That you'll gleefully count down the days until you can put yourself through the same torment next year, just for a slim chance that you'll be able to enjoy the ultimate victory instead of a final defeat.
If this was a regular season loss I'd be pointing to the fact that Montreal out chanced, out possessed and out shot the Lightning, and that those type of games usually end up with a different score.
Unfortunately for the Habs, time has all but run out. We won't have to wait very long to find out if they only have one game left in the season, as they're set to face the Lightning again tonight.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.