Canadiens @ Lightning game recap: Solid effort comes undone in the third period

For the second straight game, the Canadiens were unable to hold together in the final 20 minutes.

The Montreal Canadiens took on the final of four consecutive opponents at or near the top of their respective divisions last night. After a win versus the Winnipeg Jets, an overtime defeat at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and a regulation loss in Nashville to the Predators, the Canadiens headed to Florida to battle the Tampa Bay Lightning for the third time this season.

On a trip that many agreed would reveal where the Habs stood among the teams in the playof race, they went into the game versus Tampa Bay with three of the six points available to them them, hoping to add a few more.

From the outset, the Lightning’s plan to attack the zone with speed was apparent. Forwards were building up momentum through the neutral zone to engage their transition game, and it led to some early zone time for the home team.

Montreal seemed to be prepared for that approach, and disciplined positioning usually had their defencemen in place to defend the opposing rushes. As a result, the Canadiens were able to get some offensive rushes of their own. With both sides committed to a tight defensive formation, there were few great chances to be seen in the opening period, though Tampa Bay was able to make better use of their possession.

The blue-liners for the Habs did get caught out of position on one occasion. With the puck along the boards, J.T. Miller strode through the neutral zone in what looked like a designed play, taking a pass to get in alone on Carey Price. The Canadiens’ netminder was able to turn the shot aside and allow Montreal to get away with the defensive lapse.

Tampa Bay received another opportunity to open the scoring when Brett Kulak, who had been scrambling around while dealing with the quick play of the Lightning, lunged at Adam Erne to get whistled for tripping. Discipline was the name of the game yet again when facing the skilled Lightning power play, as penalty-killers kept their positions in shooting and passing lanes to prevent any top-quality chances.

The second period started with Montreal getting some good pressure, as they have typically done coming out of intermissions this season. A good shift from the Phillip Danault line was followed up by an even better one from Tomas Tatar and Andrew Shaw. Those two looked very good on the ice together, finding one another for several of the Canadiens’ best attempts at goal.

Their centreman, Max Domi, got involved with Yanni Gourde past the halfway mark of the middle frame, with one of his quick rages resulting in a brief bout of wrestling. For their efforts, both players were sent to the box.

After finally recording their first 4-on-4 goal a week ago, the duo of Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Brendan Gallagher was sent out in an attempt to add another. They were able to do just that, with the help of a sneaking Kulak, as the defenceman potted a cross-crease pass to score the first goal of the game.

However, the Lightning coaching staff looked at the replay and decided to challenge the legality of the goal. After a lengthy review, it was determined that Kotkaniemi’s zone entry had been a few centimetres offside, and the goal was disallowed.

At the end of the period, Gallagher was determined to get the goal back, and he and his linemates ended the period with several quality shots from right in the slot that required big saves from Andrei Vasilevskiy. The teams went to the second intermission with shots 20-16 in the Lightning’s favour.

The top line picked up in the third where they ended off in the second, with a good shift in the attacking end to open things up. After several seconds of pressure, the play quickly went the other way on what was shaping up to be a 2-on-1, but with Victor Mete on the ice, that advantage was quickly wiped out as the speedy defender got back to eliminate his man. On the play, Danault was given a penalty for hooking that probably shouldn’t have been called, sending the Lightning to another power play.

Montreal wasn’t able to survive the second penalty kill of the night, as Nikita Kucherov got himself down low to the left of Carey Price and wired home a one-timer to officially open the scoring.

Eager to get the goal back, the Habs’ top line came out shortly after the goal, winning a defensive-zone faceoff and working their way up the ice. Perhaps hoping to follow them into the zone with more offensive options on the back end, the Canadiens attempted to make a quick change on defence as Jonathan Drouin carried the puck along the opposite boards. But the winger attempted to make a pass through the middle of the ice before the swap could be completed, and the Lightning took over possession with no one back to stop them. The result was a fast-break rush, and goal from Gourde to give the home side a quick 2-0 lead in the final frame.

Going from eager to desperate in their attempt to get on the scoreboard, the Canadiens got a bit reckless and abandoned any semblance of a defensive game. The Lightning were ready to pounce on that breakdown, and forced Montreal to spend the next several minutes chasing the puck in their own end.

The results weren’t pretty for the visiting team, as the Lightning outshot them to the tune of 14-3 in a third period where the Canadiens needed to find two goals but were unable to locate the puck. The positional discipline evaporated as the league’s top team simply stayed back in the neutral zone to thwart any potential rush and then countered when they regained control.

On one such possession in Montreal’s end, Nicolas Deslauriers attempted to stop a halfwall cycle by Erne and pushed the Lightning forward into the boards, drawing a boarding call. Nate Thompson wasn’t happy with how Erne had made the play look worse than it was, and let the forward know about it. Despite the tongue-lashing, Erne eventually skated to the bench and watched his team go to another power play.

While they didn’t score on the man advantage, the Lightning did pot a third goal soon after it expired as Tyler Johnson redirected Victor Hedman’s point shot past Price. This time Claude Julien decided to use his challenge to investigate some potential goaltender interference, and the referee discovered it in his review, waving off the goal and giving Montreal some hope of getting back in the game.

A few minutes later, Dale Weise decided to send a more physical message to Erne, getting his point across but also being sent to the box in the process, putting even the slim hopes of a comeback in jeopardy.

With three minutes left, the Lightning got their third goal off the stick of Johnson, and this time the goal wasn’t overturned. The game finished with a 3-0 score in favour of Tampa Bay as they claimed a third win in the four-game series.

The Canadiens will have to gather themselves quickly after what turned into an emotional game, needing a win later today when they wrap up this road trip versus the Florida Panthers. It will be a tough game to get engaged in after the energy expended in the last four, but the two points are just as important in the standings.

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