Two injury-riddled teams met in their first games back after the holiday break, but the Tampa Bay Lightning appeared to be the more prepared team as they hosted the Montreal Canadiens.
The Habs continue to soldier on without Alex Galchenyuk, David Desharnais, Andrew Shaw, and Andrei Markov while enjoying the return of Alexei Emelin, who missed the previous two games for the birth of his third child.
The Lightning, for their part, welcomed back Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat to their lineup, while going without the services of Valtteri Filppula, who was held out of Wednesday night’s tilt for missing a team meeting earlier in the day. Filppula has five points in his last eight games while Tampa has struggled offensively.
Andrei Vasilevskiy started the game in place of the injured Ben Bishop. He came into the game with just two wins in his last eight starts.
Brendan Gallagher found himself on the top line once again to start this game, alongside Max Pacioretty and centred by Phillip Danault. Emelin’s return, meanwhile, allowed for the return of our stalwart heroes on defence: Webelin.
Early in the game, a miscue by Nathan Beaulieu led to a good scoring chance by Tampa, but the puck was quickly covered by Carey Price with no harm done.
The period continued with some back-and-forth hockey until Paul Byron pounced on a misplayed puck by Vasilevskiy. He got the puck to Alexander Radulov in front of the net, who put the Canadiens on the board first less than four minutes in, with his seventh goal of the year.
Just a few seconds later, Pacioretty sprung Gallagher with a stretch pass for a good scoring chance that was scooped up by Vasilevskiy.
Play continued on with the Habs spending the majority of the time in the Lightning end and managing to stifle the few opportunities the Bolts tried to create until halfway through the period.
Shea Weber’s attempt to clear the puck became a turnover instead, and led to a pretty tic-tac-toe play by the Triplets ending with Tyler Johnson sending the puck past a sprawling Price to tie the game at one.
With just over six minutes to go, Victor Hedman took a tripping penalty on Gallagher. It took just seconds on the power play for Weber to one-time a Byron pass from his offside past Vasilevskiy to restore the Habs’ one-goal lead.
The Habs were hemmed in their own end for some time late in the period, unable to clear despite multiple attempts. The steadiness of Price and the quickness of their defence allowed them to escape with their lead intact.
The second period began as the first had ended, with the Habs stuck in their own end and the Lightning getting a few scoring chances, none better than Price’s stick save on Palat just a minute in.
The Habs made their own surge though with a pretty bit of passing in the Lightning’s end, as Michael McCarron poked the puck to Daniel Carr. The latter passed up a shot from the slot to move the puck to Chris Terry, and the former Hurricane snapped the puck into a wide-open cage with ease.
Vladislav Namestnikov had a great chance for the Lightning when Carr turned the puck over with an ill-advised pass up the middle, but Price was there to stop the point-blank shot.
Kucherov, Johnson, and Palat continued to buzz in the Habs end whenever they were on the ice throughout the second period, and their quick passes required a highlight-reel save or two from Price which the Habs netminder was willing to oblige, though he seemed to struggle at times managing rebounds and maintaining position.
The third continued as the rest of the game had gone, with the teams trading some not-so-dangerous chances until Shea Weber livened things up with a thunderous hit against Namestnikov with 13 minutes to go in the game. No penalties were doled out on that play or from the scrum that happened afterterward.
Shortly after, however, a (what else?) turnover in the Habs’ end to the (who else?) Triplet line left Hedman all alone to receive a Kucherov pass and put the puck past Price to bring Tampa within one.
The Lightning picked up momentum from their second goal and continued to pour the pressure on the Canadiens. So much so that Weber was forced to take a tripping penalty in the defensive zone, sending Tampa to the power play with just four-and-a-half minutes remaining in the one-goal game.
One minute into the penalty, Palat was left with too much space, allowing him to shoot the puck through Jeff Petry’s legs and behind Price to tie the game at three.
Kucherov looked to give the Lightning the lead a short while later when a stretch pass gave him a breakaway on a change behind the Canadiens defence. He was a little too quick on the change though, and the Lightning headed to the box with a too many men penalty.
The Canadiens put the pressure on for the first half of the power play until a short-handed chance by the Lightning caused them to scramble in their own end for the last half of the penalty. The man disadvantage was killed off and the teams headed to overtime, each one point richer.
Radulov and Pacioretty had a golden opportunity in the extra frame on a two-on-one, but Pacioretty tipped the pass just wide of the net.
Seconds later, Johnson accepted a pass from Jason Garrison and, using Nathan Beaulieu as a partial screen, put a quick wrister behind Price to give the 4-3 win to the Lightning.
- Radulov looked rejuvenated after a short break for the holidays. He was all over the puck and generally made the evening frustrating for Tampa Bay whenever he was on the ice. He came into the game with just one goal in his past seven games and put all talk of that to rest when he scored early in the game. The NHL season can be a grind after several years in the less-hectic KHL, and the break may have done Radulov some good to keep his high-energy game going.
- Weber has not looked himself for some time, leading to some speculation that perhaps he’s playing through an injury. Whatever the cause, his bomb from the point has seemed a shadow of its former self on the power play, and hasn’t been very effective. The Habs seemed to switch things up on the first man advantage in this game, allowing Weber to showcase a different set of skills with a quick and precise shot from the faceoff dot, scoring his first goal since November 22nd. That ability to adapt on special teams when they’re not working will be important for the Habs as the season goes on, if they can continue to build on it.
- Two big themes in this game seemed to be turnovers for both teams and the Canadiens inability at key moments to clear the puck from their zone. They tried to beat themselves by continually hemming themselves in. With some adjustments being made on special teams as noted above, it may be time to turn their attention to some stronger defensive plays and zone exits.
- Price has seemed un-Price-like for the last little while (that is to say, he’s looked merely human) and it may behoove the Canadiens to lean a little more strongly on the capable Al Montoya in the upcoming few games and allow their almighty netminder to return to his former glory.
- The Carr-McCarron-Terry line is not a line that, were the Canadiens healthy, would probably be playing in the NHL. But for all that, they were one of the better Habs lines of the night: quick on the puck, making smart passes, and making the Lightning work for every inch. Depth is a beautiful thing to have.
- It was nice to see Michael Bournival be a productive member of an NHL team tonight after his history of concussion issues.