Saturday was the Habs’ first visit to Tampa Bay since last spring’s Stanley Cup Final, and a chance to take a win home. However, this time the Lightning were a top team in the league, while the Habs’ team has been decimated by UFA departures, injuries, and trades. And yet, the Canadiens were able to fight back from a two-goal deficit and record their first win in Tampa since 2017.
The First Period Belongs to Elliott
The action got started early with Alex Killorn cross-checking Alexander Romanov in front of the Montreal net. The two-minute man advantage was largely ineffectual, though, with the Habs unable to perform a controlled offensive zone entry.
The only chance was on a late David Savard rush, where the veteran defender looked to have a chance on Brian Elliott, but Savard was unable to get a shot off before crossing just past the goal line. He got the puck back in front of the net, but Jake Evans shot wide.
Evans got another chance some five minutes later, as he sent the puck to the front of the net from the left side. Josh Anderson’s redirect went well wide, giving some open net to Mike Hoffman, but Hoffman’s shot, too, went wide.
Nine minutes into the period, as the Lightning were exerting some pressure in the Montreal zone, Steven Stamkos lightly cross-checked Justin Barron in front of Jake Allen to move him away from the front of the net. Barron, still in his rookie season, seemed startled, as Stamkos then received a quick pass from Nikita Kucherov and tapped it in on the right side of Allen. First blood to the Lightning, then, on their third shot of the game, at 8:57 of the first period.
The Habs got another chance just after the 12-minute mark, as Suzuki broke in, curled around the back of the net from the right, and then tried to tuck the puck in just inside the left post. Rem Pitlick had a chance at the rebound but could not lift it over Elliott’s pad.
Just seconds later, Suzuki rushed for the goal again but was tripped by Stamkos. Cole Caufield had a chance on the ensuing power play, but then Josh Anderson made a careless pass across just inside the Tampa Bay blue line. Nick Paul jumped on the puck and rushed away with Anthony Cirelli on his left.
With no defender on the power play, it was Hoffman trying to cover Cirelli and he was outpowered. Cirelli caught Paul’s pass and directed it into the net just as he was sliding in himself, for a shorthanded goal and a 2-0 Lightning lead.
Martin St. Louis challenged the goal on the basis of goaltender interference, but, based on the video review, the referees disagreed and the goal stood — and Caufield was sent to the box for two minutes to serve the bench minor.
The Habs had one more spectacular chance with four minutes remaining, as Joel Armia passed the puck across to Christian Dvorak on another odd-man rush. Elliott slid across, though, and then swung his right pad up high in the air to turn away Dvorak’s shot, which had been destined for the top shelf.
The Canadiens outshot the Lightning 15-11 and held a 6-5 edge in high-danger chances in the period, but it was a 2-0 Tampa lead on the scoreboard as they filed off the ice for the first intermission.
Shift into the Second Gear
The action started early, and Caufield had the early chance, but his attempt to tip the puck into the net was foiled by Elliott. Edmundson then rang a shot off the goalpost. And then, ten seconds later, Kucherov was rushing in on Allen, all alone, but shot the puck well wide.
Dvorak was in on another two-on-one break just before eight minutes were on the clock, and passed it to Paul Byron on his left. Elliott was quick enough, though, and moved across to cover the angle and block Byron’s shot.
And then, the play the Habs fans were waiting for: as Erik Cernak fumbled a pass in the Montreal zone, Caufield snatched the puck and broke in on a two-on-none rush with Rem Pitlick. Left to Pitlick, back to Caufield, and then the puck was in the top right corner of the net, as Elliott was trying to cover the space low, and Caufield spied the opening. The clock read 8:57 when the Habs first got on the board.
Less than a minute later, Jordan Harris lost his helmet in the defensive zone, and, playing in his first NHL game, did not realize that he needed to get off the ice immediately. The result was a two-minute power play for Tampa Bay, then.
The Lightning got the pressure on quickly, and Stamkos rapidly recorded three shots on Allen. The penalty killers were struggling and tired, but it looked like they might survive the two minutes yet. However, it was not to be, as Victor Hedman spotted Kucherov open on the right side, and the veteran Russian all-star made no mistake in wiring the puck into the net to restore a two-goal lead for the Lightning at 11:34, just a little more than two minutes after the Caufield goal.
At 13:56, though, the Habs got back within one after just 2:20, as Nick Suzuki won an offensive faceoff cleanly, and got the puck back to Corey Schueneman. Schueneman made no mistake, and his wrist shot found the open net next to Elliott.
And another two minutes later — do we see a pattern here? — it was the Habs at it again, after Hoffman intercepted a Hedman pass and sent Anderson in with Jake Evans, with not a Lightning defender in sight. With Elliott trying to cover both attackers, Anderson went for his five-hole, and his shot found its target, bringing the Habs back to a tie game at 15:50.
Pierre-Eduard Bellemare tried to continue to scoring cadence, as he checked Jesse Ylonen into the Montreal net at about 17:30. The net came off the post, but the referees did not notice immediately. Before Corey Perry was able to sneak the net back on the play was whistled dead, though.
With the Lightning continuing the pressure, Ryan Poehling inadvertently tripped Paul at 18:17, giving Tampa Bay another opportunity to demonstrate their prowess on the man advantage.
And with just 16 seconds remaining in the period, Ondrej Palat fed the puck to the right edge of the net, where Brayden Point was ready and waiting, and restored the Tampa Bay lead.
This time the shots were 17-9 for the Lightning, and the high-danger chances tied at six each, but this time the Habs held a 3-2 edge in scoring.
Can the Third Outdo the Second?
The game in the third was far more reserved than the wide-open affair in the middle period, with both teams sensing the opportunity for a win and not wanting to risk too much.
However, it was Montreal’s fourth unit that created the fireworks. Harris and David Savard took control of the play in the defensive zone and sent Tyler Pitlick, Ryan Poehling, and Jesse Ylonen on a three-on-two rush. Poehling’s pass across to Ylonen was on the tape, and the young Finn wired a shot into the top of the net before Callan Foote could slide across to block it.
Just 2:18 into the third, then, and the bleu, blanc et rouge were right back in the game, and in with a chance at retribution over the Stanley Cup Final loss.
As the clock ticked past the halfway mark of the final period, the Lightning cranked up the pressure. A one-minute span saw five Tampa shot attempts, with Byron and Harris both blocking, Cernak and Paul shooting wide, and Allen closing the door on Ross Colton’s wraparound attempt.
The Canadiens had their turn a few minutes later, but they, too, were turned away.
Allen had to make some more strong saves at the end, but the game was destined for overtime, as has been the recent pattern.
Tampa Bay outshot Montreal again in the third, this time 12-6, and had the only two high-danger chances of the period, but Ylonen’s goal stood as the only marker of the period.
Will the Stormwaters Run Over?
The young Habs team showed no respect to the Lightning all-stars in overtime. Barron made a solid pass to Suzuki for a first look at scoring.
Then, a few minutes later, Evans and Byron broke in with only Cernak back, but Evans’ pass to Byron was blocked by Cernak’s well-timed slide.
Rem Pitlick and Hoffman appeared to have another strong play, but Hoffman misestimated Schueneman’s speed, and the defender could not get to the puck on time.
And then, Harris sent Caufield away with the puck, Caufield returned it to him, and Harris made a lovely third pass — but the play was already offside.
Back in the Habs’ defensive zone, Paul thought he had the winning goal with 1:40 remaining, as he picked up a pass in front of Allen. However, Suzuki stripped the puck away, preventing what was a likely game-winning goal.
The shots were 3-1 Tampa, with no high-danger chances — or goals — recorded in the overtime period.
Shoot, Boys, Shoot!
The Lightning got the start in the shootout, as Allen blocked Point’s shot with his right pad. Caufield had a chance to counter, but Elliott, too, was able to keep the net clean.
Kucherov had the second shot for the Lightning, but Allen poked the puck away safely, while Kucherov himself drove into Allen. Rem Pitlick then had his opportunity, but this time it was Elliott that poked the puck away before Pitlick had a chance to shoot.
Stamkos, the Lightning captain, was next, but Allen stood tall again. And then Nick Suzuki … beat Elliott, putting the fifth puck of the night behind him to secure a 5-4 shootout win for the Canadiens.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Cole Caufield (1g, 0a, 3 shots, 19:15 TOI) continues to excel in the reinvigorated Habs lineup. “Only” one goal, but there were more opportunities as Caufield was everywhere in the offensive zone again.
Second Star: Nick Suzuki (0g, 1a, 3 shots, 22:57 TOI) was solid, not only offensively but defensively, too, playing on both special teams, and making a key play in the final minutes of overtime to prevent the Lightning from scoring.
Third Star: Jake Allen (41 shots, 37 saves, 0.905 save percentage) was beaten four times by the Tampa Bay all-star forward crew, but made enough spectacular saves to keep the game close — and then came away from the shootout session with a clean sheet.
Honourable Mention: Joel Armia (0g, 0a, 2 shots, 16:56 TOI) had no scoring results to show, but his play is improving. In combination with Christian Dvorak, they had a number of opportunities that could not quite be completed, but their line had the best xGF% of any of the Habs’ lines, and the two also clocked substantial time on both the power play and the penalty kill.