The Montreal Canadiens entered the Bell Centre intending to play spoiler for a team wearing white and blue. Having staved off elimination in their last match, the Tampa Bay Lightning headed into the second game of their back to back hoping to claw back into the last Eastern Conference playoff spot.
The night started off with a small awards ceremony for members of the home team. Max Pacioretty and Carey Price skated off with the Jean-Beliveau Trophy and the Molson Cup respectively, while Phillip Danault was honoured with the Jacques Beauchamp Trophy. After taking home some hardware, both teams prepared for puck drop.
The Canadiens began the game on the wrong foot, giving up an early power play to the Lightning. Though Nikita Nesterov was sent off for cross-checking Cory Conacher a little over a minute into the opening frame, Montreal’s penalty killers had little trouble escaping the penalty unscathed.
Undeterred, Tampa Bay continued to push throughout the first period and their persistence would pay off. Though Nikita Kucherov’s initial shot rang wide off the post, lineman Yanni Gourde grabbed the rebound to give his team the early lead just under 12 minutes in.
The Lightning doubled up on their lead as the period wore down, when Kucherov found the back of the net in the dying seconds of the first and the Canadiens headed back to their locker room facing a two goal deficit.
The Canadiens started the second frame on a sharper note, as Max Pacioretty quickly found himself alone in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy but the Lightning goaltender deflected his shot wide. In a reverse of fortune, Montreal then found itself on the man advantage first when an interference call went against Ondrej Palat. Unfortunately the Canadiens’ dismal showing on the resulting power play did not help the home team get on the board.
Tampa Bay’s stifling defence continued to do Montreal no favours as Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher’s 2-on-1 attempt was broken up by Victor Hedman’s crafty stick work just under halfway through the period. But the Canadiens refused to get shut out in their last regular season game on home ice. Artturi Lehkonen made a brilliant stretch pass to Dwight King who found himself all alone near the Lightning blue line. King beat Vasilevskiy all alone, to score his first in a Canadiens jersey and cut Tampa Bay’s lead in half.
But the Lightning would respond moments later, when Alex Killorn got one past Carey Price to restore the visitors’ two-goal lead.
Sensing that the game was getting away from them, the Canadiens entered the third with a renewed sense of urgency. Byron made a quick attempt to get an early breakaway but his efforts were thwarted by Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin. Montreal was awarded a power play instead of a penalty shot on that sequence, as the Tampa Bay defender was assessed a tripping penalty on the play.
Much like the team’s first power play, the Canadiens failed to generate any scoring opportunities on the resulting man advantage. Held shotless, Montreal’s best chances came after the penalty had ended. But the momentum was short lived, as an ill-timed hooking call taken by Alex Galchenyuk immediately put the Canadiens down a man.
But Lehkonen would make the best of a bad situation by fooling Vasilevskiy with his deflected backhand to cut Tampa Bay’s lead back to one. Lehkonen’s short handed marker was the 17th goal of the season for the rookie forward.
The Lightning pushed back to salvage what remained of their power play, and Gourde scored his second of the night mere seconds after Galchenyuk’s penalty wore down to give his team a 4-2 lead.
Montreal would get another chance on the man advantage, when a delay of game call went against Tampa Bay late into the third period. The third time wasn’t the charm for the snakebitten Canadiens’ power play units which struggled to make use of the Lightning’ penalty yet again.
Tampa Bay would get dangerously close to making it a five goal game following the end of Montreal’s power play, but Price denied a streaking Braydon Coburn to keep the game close.
His efforts nearly paid off when Gallagher’s shot beat Vasilevskiy but couldn’t beat the goal post with less than three minutes left on the board. Montreal was given one last golden opportunity to make it a close game, when Anton Stralman was penalized for tripping Tomas Plekanec. Despite the penalty lasting almost the entirety of the last two minutes in the game, the Canadiens were unable to get one past an increasingly desperate Vasilevskiy.
The Tampa Lightning lived to fight another day, as the Montreal Canadiens closed out their last regular season game at the Bell Centre with an uncharacteristic loss.
- Brett Lernout, Alex Galchenyuk and Nathan Beaulieu did not have an impressive game. Between bone headed decisions, ill-timed penalties and a propensity for making passes that consistently failed to reach their teammates, it is a minor miracle that Claude Julien didn’t staple some of them to the bench for their performances in this game.
- Carey Price looked decidedly un-Carey Price-like throughout the game. The goaltender ended the night with an uncharacteristic .818 SV%, having given up more than two goals for the first time under Claude Julien’s tenure. However, not all blame could be placed on Price’s shoulders as defensive breakdowns made his job even more difficult as the game wore on.
- The less said about the Canadiens’ atrocious power play the better. In case you failed to keep count, Montreal went 0-for-4 on the man advantage - barely generating any scoring chances over the course of each opportunity.
- Credit has to be given where credit is due. The Tampa Bay Lightning came into the game needing a win. Despite no longer controlling their own playoff fates, the tired squad came into the Bell Centre ready to play a do or die match. From the Canadiens’ perspective, it is difficult to match that level of urgency when the team’s priorities lie with icing a healthy squad for the postseason. Eliminating the Lightning from playoff contention would have been the perfect cherry on top of this season, but Montreal has more to gain from playing it safe.
And besides, isn’t it fun to watch Toronto fans squirm some more?