It was a short trip to Amalie Arena from the BB&T Center where the Montreal Canadiens had played less than two days earlier. The Habs were hoping to put a 5-0 result versus the Florida Panthers behind them with a better outcome in the home building of the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning.
Noah Juulsen nearly got things started on a positive note soon after the opening faceoff, jumping up into the slot to get a shot but not getting a goal.
With the Habs on a power play moments later, the team was able to break through to score the opening goal, as Charles Hudon found Artturi Lehkonen on the opposite side of the ice, with the Finn blasting a one-timer past Louis Domingue, who was still in the act of sliding across after the pass.
The goal got Tampa Bay going as the teams traded chances for several shifts after returning to full strength. The Habs had a great chance to get a two-goal advantage on a one-man effort from Hudon to fend off two defenders on his way to the net, just failing to finish off what would have been one of the goals of the season.
Antti Niemi was on his top form to keep the home side off the board at five-on-five, but the relentless attack eventually forced the Canadiens to take a penalty, with Jacob de la Rose going to the box for tripping.
It took just over a minute on the man advantage for the Lightning to tie the game up. The second unit came onto the ice for the Lightning, and Tyler Johnson posted up in the spot that Steven Stamkos has just vacated, firing his 20th of the season past Niemi.
The Lightning weren’t content to just have the game tied, ramping their pressure back up in the final minutes of the period. Once again it was de la Rose who cracked under the pressure, heading to the box for the final 24 seconds of the first period.
The intermission helped the Habs to kill off the minor in two parts, which they were able to accomplish to keep the game deadlocked at one goal apiece.
With de la Rose back on the ice, he joined linemates Hudon and Alex Galchenyuk as they headed up ice on a three-on-one, and once more Hudon’s passing skills were put on display. The rookie sent a pass over to Galchenyuk, similar to the one that Lehkonen had received in the first period, and the result was the same as Galchenyuk notched his 16th.
As they had earlier, the Lightning responded well after falling behind, carrying the play for the majority of the middle period. The Canadiens’ best chance to score came after killing off Noah Juulsen’s delay of game penalty near the midpoint of the frame, as a line of Galchenyuk, Jonathan Drouin, and Brendan Gallagher spent a shift around the Lightning net, but were unable to extend the lead.
With seconds ticking down and the puck deep in the Canadiens’ zone, Phillip Danault took a high stick along the end boards, and he didn’t return from the dressing room for the third period. It’s been a tough stretch for the centreman, who first dealt with a concussion and was then held out of the Panthers game with neck soreness. You can’t fault the team for taking every precaution with their player, but it must be a very frustrating experience for Danault.
In the third, the Habs best player in the game was the target of the Lightning. The first incident involving #54 came as he attempted to power his way around Jake Dotchin to the front of the net, instead being shoved into the end boards by the defenceman and appearing to be injured on the play. Despite needing assistance to get to the bench, Hudon quickly returned to the ice, testing his ankle in a few turns between whistles before re-entering the game.
Not long after re-establishing himself in the contest, he was hit from behind by J.T. Miller, drawing a boarding minor. The Habs weren’t able to capitalize on the chance Hudon had earned them, and it proved costly.
The Lightning pushed the pace after killing off the penalty in an attempt to find a game-tying goal, and Nikita Kucherov delivered just that with seven minutes to go, scoring his 34th of the season.
It was Hudon once again taking one for the team as he caught a high stick from Chris Kunitz with four minutes left. The Canadiens’ power play, which had worked its way up among the top 10 teams in recent weeks, continued a recent run of poor form as they were once again unable to take advantage of the situation Hudon’s hard work had generated.
Regulation saw one last bit of action, as Gallagher was taken out hard near the benches by Cedric Paquette. Jordie Benn came to the defence of his teammate, dropping the gloves with Paquette as the two proceeded to fall to the ice before any serious blows could be landed.
After two minutes of play in overtime, a penalty to Drouin gave the Lightning a great opportunity at 4-on-3 to finish the game off, but the penalty kill held together long enough, and the game went to a shootout; the third game to be decided in the penalty shot contest between the teams this season.
With the Canadiens down to their final shooter and facing a 1-0 deficit, the call was made to put the game in the hands of Drouin, and he got some retribution for his overtime infraction by beating Domingue with a shot just inside the post.
Kucherov, who had tied things up at the tail end of the third, scored to start off the fourth round, and it proved to be the game-winner when Lehkonen was stopped on the final play of the game.
They didn’t win the contest, but the Canadiens did get a result from a game versus the Lightning for a third time this year, and ended the four-game season series with four points from a 1-1-2 record. It’s not much to hang a hat on in an awful season, but as mentioned in our preview of the game, it is something positive that the team can look back on as it prepares for better fortunes next season.
Montreal continues its stretch of 12 games in 21 days on Monday night, taking on the Columbus Blue Jackets in the final game of a six-game road trip.