In search of a third straight victory, the Canadiens took to the ice on Tuesday with more momentum than they've felt in some time. Standing in their way, however, were the Tampa Bay Lightning - a team that has won 10 of their last 12 games.
The opening moments of the game saw some back-and-forth action without much in the way of scoring chances, though the Lightning looked the better team early on. They forced numerous turnovers at centre-ice, and managed to pin the Habs in their defensive zone.
Nathan Beaulieu - who drew back into the lineup to replace an injured Jeff Petry - made his presence felt early as he came to the defense of Lars Eller, dropping the gloves with Cedric Paquette. In a spirited bout, Beaulieu actually managed to break the visor off of Paquette's helmet.
The deadlock was broken just six minutes into the game after the Lightning turned the puck over in the offensive zone. Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Plekanec were quick to react, both breaking down the ice to create a 2-on-1 opportunity. Plekanec got the puck back to Gallagher who beat Ben Bishop with a snapshot, putting the Habs in front 1-0.
It looked as though the Habs lead might have doubled when Sven Andrighetto wired a puck off both posts. Play would continue, however, and after an Alexei Emelin hooking penalty drew a whistle the war-room determined that the puck never crossed the goal-line.
Some nervous moments followed a prolonged Lightning cycle late in the period, with Devante Smith-Pelly taking a roughing penalty while battling Ryan Callahan along the boards. The Habs penalty killing unit proved up to the challenge for the second time in the period, though, and the team managed to escape the first with their one-goal lead intact.
The beginning of the second period, however, was a different story. Valtteri Filppula threw a shot on goal with a lot of traffic in front, and managed to find the back of the net behind Ben Scrivens for his seventh goal of the season, knotting the score back up.
Plekanec answered for the Canadiens a little under seven minutes later, sliding the puck under Ben Bishop to restore the Habs' one-goal lead.
The line was at it again sooner after, though it would be the Lightning walking away with the best scoring chance of the sequence. Alex Galchenyuk had a great opportunity on a wrap-around that was stopped by Bishop, who then managed to spring his team on a 3-on-1 rush, stopped only by a shot off the bar from Brian Boyle.
Eller managed to draw a penalty behind the Lightning net after Smith-Pelly steamed down the ice to beat out an icing call. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was called for holding the stick, sending the Habs to their first power play of the game. Unfortunately, the power play unit failed to generate any chances before P.K. Subban was called for interference just a minute into the man advantage.
Injury concern followed for the Habs, as Beaulieu put himself in front of a Stamkos shot and was forced to limp off the ice before heading to the dressing room. Joining him was Brian Flynn, who seemed to be hurt on the same play off of the face-off. Neither player would return to the game.
Subban refused to go away even in the dying moments of the period, with a great individual effort to get free in the offensive zone before flipping the puck into the crease. Smith-Pelly found himself in the right place at the right time as the puck deflected off of his skate and into the net, doubling the Habs lead with only eight seconds to go in the frame.
Failing to convert on power plays would prove disastrous for the Lightning, as the Habs would eventually add to their lead. Receiving the pass from Galchenyuk, Plekanec faked the shot and moved to the side of the net, beating Bishop with a shot that he couldn't get to in time. increasing the Canadiens' lead to three.
The Lightning would not die there, however, as Victor Hedman took advantage of a scramble around the crease to beat Scrivens with a fairly easy goal, throwing the puck toward a gaping hole in the net to make it 4-2.
With over three minutes to go in the game, Jon Cooper made the decision to pull Bishop from the net in favour of the extra attacker, giving the Lightning plenty of time to work with the sixth man to try and tie it up.
Anxious moments ensued as the Lightning trapped the Habs in their zone for the remainder of the game, but were ultimately unable to beat Scrivens again, giving the Canadiens their third win in as many games.
- The trio of Plekanec, Gallagher, and Galchenyuk was very impressive all night long for the Habs, being the line the most responsible for what turned out to be a huge victory. They were the only Habs forward line that controlled above 50% of even-strength shot attempts as a unit, and it was no wonder that they formed the game's three stars as a result.
- After winning just his first game as a member of the Canadiens back on Saturday, it didn't really seem plausible that by Tuesday night Ben Scrivens would have three under his belt. He was once again a major piece of the victory, turning aside 37 shots and keeping the puck out of the net when it mattered most. In the absence of Price it is this type of performance the Habs have been waiting for from a back-up, and if he can keep it up, the Habs might just be on their way to putting a run together.
- Another injury on the blueline, this time to Beaulieu, is especially concerning. With Petry already on the shelf, the Habs' defensive depth may be tested. If neither is ready to go on Friday, Greg Pateryn may draw back into the lineup but it will be interesting to see if the likes of Victor Bartley is called up.
- They will definitely be calling a forward up, since Brian Flynn is set to be missing six to eight weeks with his lower-body injury.