The Habs once again had their season on the line on Wednesday night as they returned to Amalie Arena for Game 5 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Coach Dominique Ducharme opted to retain his victorious lineup which meant that Tomas Tatar, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jon Merrill, and Erik Gustafsson were the healthy scratches for this elimination game. The goaltending matchup remained the same as Carey Price faced Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Price had been excellent when facing elimination this postseason, but Vasilevskiy has also been great after a loss for the last two postseasons, so the game promised to be a goaltending duel. That’s precisely what happened as Price was easily the best player on the ice, but Vasilevskiy was the second and the Lightning skated away with a 1-0 win and their second straight Stanley Cup.
The first five minutes of the game was akin to watching a chess match as both teams dumped, chased, tried to punish defenders, and ultimately played it as safe as possible.
The officials then intervened as Corey Perry was called for hooking. The Lightning barely got their man advantage established and Price was there when they did as the Habs killed off the first penalty of the game. The make-up call came less than two minutes later as Jan Rutta cross-checked Artturi Lehkonen. However, Montreal’s advantage was ineffective as Tampa had better chances of scoring during the sequence before it was finally cut short as Josh Anderson was called for a hook that prevented a breakaway from Blake Coleman.
The second Tampa Bay advantage was much more dangerous and created momentum as they took over the game with their best chance coming when Tyler Johnson beat Price but smacked the crossbar with his chance.
The final five minutes saw the Habs push back despite the fact that they were mostly kept to the outside of the Tampa Bay defensive zone. One detail that needed to be dealt with between periods was Anderson’s concentration as he spent much of the period after his penalty whining at the officials. The shot totals ended the first with a 13-4 advantage for the Lightning, a fair evaluation to the flow of the period and of Price’s excellence in the first.
Only 24 seconds into the second period, David Savard was pressured by Montreal’s forecheck and he sent the puck out of the rink in the defensive zone for a delay of game penalty. The man advantage was once again terrible and that gave momentum to Tampa to start the period.
The Habs would push back and finally force Vasilevskiy to make a good save, but the period was still being dominated by the Lightning early on. With 11:28 to play, Nick Suzuki broke free and was tripped by Mikhail Sergachev to negate the attack which would send the Habs to a third power play on the night.
The Habs were finally able to get some zone time on the man advantage and it was Cole Caufield who got two scoring chances with one hitting the post after a good shot by Tyler Toffoli who had been invisible up to that point in the game. This created momentum for the Habs who finally got some 5-on-5 play in the offensive zone that led to some good scoring chances as Armia and Caufield whiffed on good chances.
However, with 6:33 to play, the fourth line got hemmed into their zone and Savard was finally able to send a shot-pass to Ross Colton who tapped it home for the game’s first (and as it turned out, only) goal.
The Habs battled back as Anderson and Caufield fumbled their way through a 2-on-1 that didn’t amount to a shot on net. Montreal played their best segment of the entire series after the goal, but the Lightning hung on until there was 37 seconds to play and Ben Chiarot was called for an absolutely garbage holding call as he played the body rather well against Brayden Point who tried to beat him 1-on-1. The Habs managed to kill the remaining time and also managed to close the shot gap over the course of the second period as it ended 19-14 for the Lightning overall.
The Habs completed yet another monster penalty kill to kick off the third period, but the Lightning continued to pressure and forced Price to make two excellent saves on Kucherov to keep the Habs within striking distance although they weren’t able to muster up much offensively following the successful kill.
With ten minutes to play, the Lightning went into a bit of a shell to protect the lead before going into a full-on trap to bore the hockey world into winning their second straight Stanley Cup. Several chances were had for the Habs in the final moments of regulation with Price on the bench, but they couldn’t solve Vasilevskiy and saw an unbelievable postseason come to its conclusion.
HabsWorld Habs Three Stars
First Star – Carey Price
When everyone doubted what Price had left to give this team and crucified Marc Bergevin for the contract, Price was getting ready for the team’s most exciting playoff run in 28 years. I never want to hear the $10.5M argument ever again.
Stats: 29 saves, 30 shots, .967 save %, 1.03 GAA, 58:14 TOI
Second Star – Ben Chiarot
Many like to complain about Chiarot as he isn’t the best with the puck. However, his physical presence was monumental and this could have been his last with the team with Seattle’s expansion looming. Hats off to a great two seasons from Chiarot with the bleu-blanc-rouge.
Stats: 3 shots, 9 hits, 23:39 TOI
Third Star – Cole Caufield
He was the player with the best chances for the Habs on this night and that’s crazy considering he’s not even considered a rookie yet.
Stats: 3 shots, 16:43 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Shea Weber
Much like Price, many felt he was finished. He was anything but finished in these playoffs as he was every bit the advertised man mountain as he led the crap out of this team to the 31st selection in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.
Stats: 1 shot, 5 hits, 24:23 T.O.I.