The Habs had a second crack at the heavily favoured Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night as Game Two promised to be a tighter contest than the first if this was ever going to be a series. As expected, the Canadiens made one change to the lineup as Joel Armia returned to his spot and Jake Evans returned to the press box. The goaltending matchup remained Carey Price versus Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The Habs dominated the entire contest and truly deserved a better outcome on this night. Instead, a few brain cramps from Ben Chiarot and Joel Edmundson proved to be the difference as the Lightning escaped a poor performance with a 3-1 win, and more importantly, a 2-0 series lead.
The opening three minutes saw both teams exchange great scoring chances as Price stepped up and then had Brendan Gallagher complete a big shot block. Nick Suzuki was the one to get a partial break but saw Vasilevskiy make a good save on a nice move.
5:30 into the period, Jeff Petry tried to play the puck on Brayden Point instead of the body and ended up with the game’s first penalty for tripping. Armia and Phillip Danault were particularly solid in getting through Petry’s penalty without damage on the scoreboard.
Right before the ten-minute mark, an errant pass by Price caused Paul Byron to take a slashing penalty to help out his goaltender. The Lightning’s second power play was far more dangerous but Price stood tall and the Habs kept it scoreless.
This appeared to give the Habs some legs as both Suzuki and Toffoli created some scoring chances from good defensive plays which was already more than the Habs were generating on Monday. With 2:33 to play, Byron and Erik Cernak were assessed coincidental minors sending the end of the period to 4-on-4 for five seconds before Danault was clipped with a high stick sending Ryan McDonagh to the box for four minutes. The Habs inexplicably opted to play two defenders instead of Cole Caufield and the 4-on-3 was unsuccessful to end the period.
The Habs kicked off the second with over a minute of power play time and Suzuki was once again stopped by Vasilevskiy in the opening seconds in close. The rest of the advantage was solid but not necessarily dangerous.
As the opening half of the game came to its conclusion, it was worth noting that the Habs were winning their puck battles but were lacking in opportunism as the score remained untouched despite a 15-7 shot advantage for the Habs.
This would prove costly as 6:40 into the second period, Corey Perry failed to get the puck out of the defensive zone which eventually became a soft wrist shot by Anthony Cirelli from the blue line that fooled Price and opened the scoring.
The second half of the game started with a dirty interference by Mikhail Sergachev on Lehkonen that gave the Habs their third man advantage of the night. This time, a soft shot across the ice by Suzuki from a distance fooled Vasilevskiy, went through the five-hole, and tied the game.
After the goal, the Canadiens were all over the Lightning as Tampa was basically playing with five to six goaltenders as they watched the Habs buzz everywhere in the offensive zone. It stayed this way until there was 3:22 left when Armia was called for a high stick. Price made a big save early on Point as the Habs managed to kill the penalty.
However, with merely a second left on the clock, the Lightning took advantage of a terrible pinch by Ben Chiarot given the time left on the clock to capitalize on a 2-on-1 with Barclay Goodrow setting up Blake Coleman. That allowed the home team to leave a period where they were completely dominated up 2-1.
The third period started with the Habs clearly trying to do too much to overcome the late goal. The result was two huge Price saves that allowed the team to find their legs and return to the formula that had been working for the first two periods.
While Montreal returned to the attack, it was clear that the Lightning were protecting the middle of the ice with a lead in the third. Quality scoring chances were scarce even if the Habs controlled the puck.
With 4:18 to play, with the Canadiens in complete control, Joel Edmundson reversed a puck behind his net despite not being pressured. The reverse caught both Petry and Price completely by surprise and Ondrej Palat was there to bank it home and make it 3-1.
The Habs pushed hard for the final minutes but were unable to solve the wall that the Lightning created in front of Vasilevskiy.
HabsWorld Habs Three Stars
First Star – Nick Suzuki
After a rough first game, Suzuki came back strong and was by far the Habs best player on this night. The goal he did score was likely his weakest attempt at the net, but they all count. If the Suzuki line can keep playing this way, there is little doubt that the Habs will remain within striking distance all series long.
Stats: 1 goal, -1, 9 shots, 2 hits, 18:51 TOI
Second Star – Joel Armia
Armia’s impact was clearly felt all game long as he was huge on the penalty kill and on the forecheck in getting the Habs some big minutes in the offensive zone where the Lightning’s speed was completely contained. The way Armia has played these playoffs, it’s hard to imagine the Habs allowing him to walk during the offseason.
Stats: -1, 2 shots, 2 hits, 14:03 TOI
Third Star – Tyler Toffoli
If the Suzuki line had an excellent night, Toffoli had much to do about it. He won many puck battles, was physical like we’ve yet to see in these playoffs, and completed defensive zone plays to create space for his young linemates.
Stats: -2, 3 shots, 2 hits, 19:52 TOI
Honourable Mention – Eric Staal
Staal, who appeared like this series was going to be far too fast for his legs, had a great bounce-back game as finding Armia back on his wing allowed the entire line to slow the pace and force the Lightning to play that style of game. So far in these playoffs, when this line played this way, they found a way to get on the board. This game was different as Armia and Staal were stoned by Vasilevskiy more than once.
Stats: -2, 2 shots, 9:28 T.O.I.