Down two more regulars from Saturday’s loss, the Habs limped back into action on Tuesday night in a Stanley Cup rematch against Tampa Bay. They held the lead for most of the game but couldn’t close it late, allowing two late goals to fall 3-2.
Tyler Toffoli (upper body) and Joel Armia (undisclosed) were both ruled out while Mattias Norlinder is with Laval this week so Dominique Ducharme had to make a trio of lineup changes. Cedric Paquette and Laurent Dauphin joined the lineup up front while Kale Clague made his Montreal debut on the back end. Those changes necessitated several line changes as well; the new ones were as follows:
Montreal got off to a decent start with four shots in the first two minutes, though none were particularly dangerous. Over the first half of the period, it was complete low-event, boring hockey which, if you were to ask Ducharme, would be exactly what he wanted; with so many players out, it’s their only chance of winning.
Unfortunately, Clague made a first impression he’d like to have back. Just past the midway mark, he whiffed on his pass attempt from behind the net. That resulted in him getting next to nothing on it which led the pass right to Patrick Maroon in the slot. He corralled it, turned, and fired it past Jake Allen who barely had time to react. A little over a minute later, Ben Chiarot had a decent look off a rush play that Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped.
Clague was able to draw the first penalty of the game on his next shift as he drew a hold on Boris Katchouk. The first power play unit didn’t do much while the second managed a good look down low from Ryan Poehling that Vasilevskiy got a piece of.
A minute after the advantage expired, it was Tampa Bay’s turn with the power play as Chiarot was called for holding Steven Stamkos. Montreal used a very passive strategy and it seemed to work while Dauphin basically shadowed Stamkos for his shift on there. The Lightning couldn’t manage much and the most dangerous sequence was a two-on-two rush with Nick Suzuki and Christian Dvorak but they couldn’t get a shot off. The buzzer sounded on a relatively uneventful opening frame with Montreal holding a narrow 9-7 shot advantage.
Paquette made a nice defensive play on the opening shift of the second period to break up what would have been a strong scoring chance as the defensive attention to detail carried over from the first.
Eventually, the Habs were able to get some offensive contributions as well. In full stride, David Savard was given a pass from Jonathan Drouin on the wing (a tactic the Habs used a lot on this one) and while he didn’t handle it cleanly, he kept it moving forward. He was able to get it towards Suzuki and after it hit him, the youngster tapped it past Vasilevskiy to tie it up.
Montreal’s injury list then got another new member as moments later, Christian Dvorak suffered what looked to be a knee or leg injury on a collision with Cal Foote, ending his night prematurely.
At the seven-minute mark, the Habs executed a nice passing play to get Artturi Lehkonen a prime chance in the slot. However, his shot missed the net and he wiped out in the process. Off the ensuing offensive zone faceoff, though, Suzuki won it back to Mike Hoffman and he fired one short-side on Vasilevskiy to give the Habs the lead.
Four minutes later, Ryan Poehling led a two-on-one but his pass across was broken up. That seemed to give Tampa Bay their skating legs as they pushed back much harder for the rest of the period.
Along the way, Alexander Romanov threw a hit on Anthony Cirelli, earning him a tripping call. That drew the ire of Zach Bogosian who quickly dropped the gloves, landing him an instigator penalty to make it a four-on-four instead of a power play.
The Lightning did get a late man advantage, however, as Savard tripped up Corey Perry with under a minute to go. They didn’t score and had a carryover advantage while the Habs carried a one-goal lead into the third despite being outshot 11-6 in the period.
Montreal killed off the back half of the penalty and nearly had a good scoring chance right after as Savard got out of the box and immediately joined a two-on-one but Pierre-Edouard Bellemare broke up Evans’ pass. Tampa had a good chance thwarted at the other end when Allen slid across to stop a one-timer from Alex Killorn just past the six-minute mark.
Two minutes later, Lehkonen got behind Jan Rutta and was off to the races. Unfortunately, his shot caught the knob of Vasilevskiy’s stick, keeping it a one-goal game.
Less than a minute after that, Tampa Bay got another chance with the man advantage when Suzuki was called for a hook on Cirelli in the slot. Victor Hedman rang a shot off the post on the first unit, then got around Paquette on the rush just as the penalty expired but Allen closed the five-hole to make the stop.
Dauphin had a good chance to get his first goal as a Hab as he re-directed Brett Kulak’s point shot with six minutes left but Vasilevskiy got a piece of it.
Those missed opportunities came back to hurt them. Tampa pulled Vasilevskiy with a little over two and a half minutes left on an offensive zone draw. The Habs got control but the breakout pass for Drouin just missed. Instead of him having a breakaway to make it a two-goal game, the Lightning came back the other way and tied it up when Stamkos’ centring pass hit Corey Perry’s knee and went past Allen to tie it up.
To their credit, Montreal didn’t let up and had some good pressure after but they weren’t rewarded for it. Savard pinched to keep the puck in briefly but was a bit flat-footed as Tampa came out with control. Killorn found a hustling Ondrej Palat who was a step ahead of Dauphin and Savard and he lifted it past Allen with 37 seconds left. It took the Canadiens most of the remaining time to get control of the puck to get Allen out left alone getting a shot at tying it as they lost a game they deserved a better fate in.
Vasilevskiy made 21 stops in the win while Allen turned aside 24 of 27 Tampa Bay attempts. Neither team scored on the power play with the Lightning going 0/3 and the Habs 0/1.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Nick Suzuki – With so many players out, Tampa had an opportunity to really hone in on his line in this one but it didn’t seem to matter as the youngster was noticeable when he was out there. He had some energy after the opening period and had a hand in both Montreal goals.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1 rating, 2 PIMS, 7/13 faceoffs, 19:15 TOI
2nd Star: Mike Hoffman – We’ll see if the goal stays his (Drouin may have gotten a piece) but either way, Hoffman deserves this spot. He was one of a few players with positive possession numbers on the game and with the lines getting jumbled up when Dvorak left, he stood out when he got the extra shift with the fourth line. He doesn’t have many weapons but his shot is certainly impressive.
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 2 shots, 1 block, 17:47 TOI
3rd Star: Laurent Dauphin – He doesn’t end up with a nice stat line and getting beaten on the last goal hurts but his role shifted mid-game from someone who was just out there to try not to mess up to one taking a top-nine shift, seeing time at centre and the wing, and being used in more offensive situations than he typically sees in the NHL. He had a lot thrown at him and did relatively well so he gets the last star.
Stats: 0 points, -2 rating, 1 shot, 2 hits, 3 blocks, 3/4 faceoffs, 15:09 TOI
Honourable Mention: The penalty kill – With all of the injuries and some key killers in the penalty box at times, there were some players getting bigger roles than usual shorthanded. Paquette did quite well in that spot as did Dauphin who was paired up with him. Brett Kulak – who hardly plays on the penalty kill when everyone is available – logged heavy minutes. In the end, they did quite well to limit a quality Tampa Bay power play to not much in the way of chances.
Stats: 3/3, 3 shots allowed