Much like in their series against the Vegas Golden Knights, Game 1 was a tough go for the Montreal Canadiens against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Despite some moments where the Habs looked the equal of the Bolts, the defending Stanley Cup champions eventually found the upper hand to put Montreal away handedly.
For Game 2, the Habs’ lineup changes were simple, Joel Armia drew in on the fourth line in place of Jake Evans. It was up to Luke Richardson and the coaching staff to make adjustments to the Tampa game plan, as the team had done all playoffs. For the Lightning they were without Alex Killorn who left Game 1 after taking a Jeff Petry slapshot off his ankle, replaced by Mathieu Joseph.
The opening minutes mirrored those of Game 1, with Montreal getting a few looks, but Tampa Bay getting the better of their zone time as they peppered Carey Price. Nick Suzuki ended up with the best chance of the early exchanges, taking a Joel Edmundson stretch pass in on net, but Andrei Vasilevskiy poked the puck at the last second to deny the Habs forward his scoring chance.
A potent Tampa Bay power play had a chance to break the deadlock shortly afterward as Brayden Point was tripped up by the net by Jeff Petry, sending the Montreal defender to the box for two minutes. The Canadiens’ penalty-killers gave Tampa Bay absolutely nothing, killing off the two-minute minor and keeping the game scoreless.
The Canadiens took the momentum from that strong penalty kill, testing Vasilevskiy with chances off the rush, but they were unable to set up any serious zone time, then had another penalty to kill off as Paul Byron was whistled for a slash. Tampa Bay again got some good looks from Nikita Kucherov, but Price and the Montreal penalty-killers again stood tall.
Late in the period the officials got in on the action again as Erik Cernak and Paul Byron took coincidental minors, and as four-on-four started Ryan McDonagh whacked Phillip Danault across the face with a stick, initially only drawing a two-minute minor. However, Danault was clearly bleeding from the nose, and after a visual appeal to the officials an extra two minutes were tacked on.
With a four-on-three opportunity, the Canadiens did little to pester the Bolts, as Shea Weber and Erik Gustafsson took the ice for a full two minutes instead of Cole Caufield, who only got some time once it returned to a traditional five-on-four power play that was going to carry over into the second period. Josh Anderson was unhappy with an uncalled slash right as the frame came to a close, but the officialls didm’t dole out another minor.
The Canadiens failed to make much of their man advantage to open the second, and Tampa was able to get back to even strength while the game still awaited its first goal. It took a bit, even as Montreal controlled the shots heavily, but in the end Tampa capitalized on one small Montreal mistake to take the lead. Corey Perry failed to clear the zone, and Tampa cycled the puck to the point where Anthony Cirelli let a shot go through traffic. Jon Merrill inadvertently took away Carey Price’s eyes and Cirelli’s shot found its way right through Merrill’s legs to the back of the net as Price couldn’t react fast enough with his blocker.
Montreal continued to hammer away after the goal, and it felt like one of their own was all but inevitable. The Habs were handed that chance when Mikhail Sergachev laid out Artturi Lehkonen with a dangerous shove into the boards while Lehkonen didn’t have the puck, sending the Finn to the locker room, Sergachev to the box for two minutes, and Montreal to the power play.
This time the Habs made the most of their advantage, even if they got a massive helping hand from Vasilevskiy. Nick Suzuki collected a puck off a faceoff and circled to the top of the zone where he flicked a backhand toward the net, Ryan McDonagh caught part of it, but not enough to stop the shot. Vasilevskiy misread it altogether, and it trickled through his five-hole to tie the game.
It was all Montreal as the period entered its final minutes, and even another Tampa Bay power play didn’t faze the Canadiens. Yet, with all the momentum on their side, one moment of poor judgment by Ben Chiarot resulted in Barclay Goodrow walking around him and feeding a pass to a diving Blake Coleman to give Tampa a wholly undeserved lead with jut over a second left in the period.
That left the Habs with no choice, but to go out and win the third period emphatically. Yet It was Tampa Bay that came out strong, forcing the Canadiens to defend on their heels through the opening minutes, and Price had to be sharp as Coleman looked to add another goal to his night.
To their credit, Montreal weathered the early storm, with Suzuki firing off chances in response before also making a diving pokecheck to deny Nikita Kucherov a potential breakaway opportunity. Tampa Bay wasn’t making it easy for Montreal to keep their pressure going for long as they stifled the Habs at their own blue line repeatedly to slow down the oncoming attack.
As was the story with Game 1, Game 2 was decided on another backbreaking decision by a Montreal defender. This time it was the consistently reliable Joel Edmundson lazily reversing the puck behind his own net, right to an oncoming Ondrej Palat, who fired it past an unaware Price to make it 3-1 with just over four minutes left to play.
That’s all the defending champions needed to see out the remainder of the game and head to Montreal with a big lead on the series and the Canadiens looking for answers. Game 3 is Friday night at the Bell Centre, where despite the team petitioning for more fans, the limit will be kept at 3,500 in attendance.