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After a tough road trip that ended in Tampa Bay, the Habs were back home on Tuesday to face, well, Tampa Bay again.  Montreal put forth one of their better performances in recent weeks and the end result was an impressive 3-2 victory.

Martin St. Louis made a pair of changes for this one as two players returned from injury for this one in Kirby Dach and Brendan Gallagher.  They took the places of Jesse Ylonen (out with an illness) and Anthony Richard (sent back to Laval to avoid converting him to a regular recall).  The team lined up as follows:

Harvey-Pinard – Suzuki – Dach
Gurianov – Drouin – Anderson
Hoffman – Belzile – Gallagher
Pezzetta – Tierney – Pitlick

Matheson – Savard
Edmundson – Barron
Kovacevic – Wideman

The game got off to a slow start as four minutes in, the shots were 1-0 for the Habs (and their one shot wasn’t much of one).  Considering how much Montreal has struggled defensively lately, that’s probably not a bad thing.

Brandon Hagel took the first penalty of the game a little past that four-minute mark.  The top unit passed the puck around well but when the time came for shots, Mike Hoffman fired wide and Rafael Harvey-Pinard’s tip in front just missed.

Tampa Bay’s first shot came past the seven-minute mark from behind the net.  Their best early chance came a minute later as a broken play eventually saw Nikita Kucherov in alone on Samuel Montembeault.  However, Kucherov’s initial shot went well wide and Montembeault was able to stop the attempt to bank it in from behind.

On the next shift, Darren Raddysh made a perfectly-placed pass to Nick Suzuki from behind Tampa’s net.  (Raddysh isn’t a new Hab, it was just a brutal giveaway.)  The captain slipped a quick feed to Dach in the slot and his shot somehow squeaked through Andrei Vasilevskiy to open up the scoring.

The Habs doubled their advantage with six minutes to go.  Denis Gurianov came in on his off-wing on the rush and threaded a cross-ice pass to Jonathan Drouin.  Drouin had a bit of time and space and made the most of it, going top-corner on Vasilevskiy.

Gallagher’s first appearance on the scoresheet wasn’t a good one as he tripped Mikey Eyssimont with a little over four minutes to go.  Tampa Bay has a top power play for a reason and they zipped it around Montreal’s end, aided by a couple of failed clearing attempts.  Their best chance came 75 seconds in when Brayden Point had a shot from the slot but Montembeault got just enough to keep it out.  It wound up being a period where the Canadiens were relatively sharp and the Lightning anything but; the shots were tied at 10 apiece after the late pressure from Tampa Bay.

The Lightning were much better to start the second period even though the shots weren’t piling up.  Just before the four-minute mark, Corey Perry received a cross-ice feed in the slot but Chris Wideman was there to help break it up.  Three minutes later, Kucherov sent Point in all alone but Matheson hustled back; between that and Point being a little hesitant on his move, he didn’t wind up getting off a shot.

Montreal took their second offensive zone penalty of the game at the 8:30 mark when Gurianov needlessly tripped Ross Colton.  Tampa Bay made them pay quickly.  Steven Stamkos, who was at the point this time, sent a quick feed to Point who was standing in Stamkos’ usual spot.  The end result was a familiar one for the Lightning, a one-timer from that spot leading to a power play goal.

With seven minutes left, Michael Pezzetta got a hard hit in on Perry, one that drew the ire of Patrick Maroon.  Both players received matching minors on the play, resulting in some four-on-four play.  Tampa Bay had the best chance of the sequence after some quick passes helped free up Nick Perbix for a shot in tight but Montembeault got the leg out to make the stop.

With just over three minutes left, Tampa Bay turned it over to Suzuki once more in the Lightning zone.  Once again, it wound up in the back of the net.  Suzuki sent a pass to the point for David Savard who went cross-ice to Matheson.  His shot caught the post but went in to restore the two-goal lead.

In the final minute, Colton was left alone at the top of the crease for just a brief moment but his shot went wide.  At the other end, an intentional offside resulted in a late offensive zone draw for Montreal.  They didn’t score on the sequence but Victor Hedman took a hooking penalty at the buzzer, giving the Canadiens a carryover power play.  Despite the improved performance which included a 13-6 shot advantage, Tampa Bay still trailed by two.

As is often the case with a carryover advantage – or any Montreal advantage – they weren’t able to do much with it.  Matheson had a shot from the point and that’s about it.

Tampa Bay started to push to trim the deficit.  Kucherov had a good look at the five-minute mark and then a minute and a half later, Gurianov turned it over to Stamkos but Montembeault made the stop.

Instead of just completely sitting back though, the Habs started to push back.  Hoffman and Gallagher had a two-on-one at the eight-minute mark; Hoffman kept it but Erik Cernak broke it up.  95 seconds later, Pezzetta had a nice cross-ice pass to Drouin who had an open net but Perbix was able to block the shot.  Two minutes later, Gallagher went in with Alex Belzile on a two-on-one.  Gallagher kept as well but his shot went wide.

Then the Canadiens had a bad bounce.  Justin Barron’s clearing attempt off the glass in the defensive zone went right to Colton.  He sent a pass toward the net and Pat Maroon was right there for the tap-in to make it a one-goal game again.

Once again, to Montreal’s credit, they kept pushing and some late pressure prevented them from pulling Vasilevskiy for the extra attacker until there was a minute to go.

The Canadiens had the only real chance of the final minute but it was a costly one.  As Josh Anderson tried to knock the puck down and get around Mikhail Sergachev, the blueliner dragged Anderson down with the winger crashing hard into the post, suffering what looked like a fairly serious injury in the process.  Somehow, there was no call on the play.  (It couldn’t have been called a goal as Anderson didn’t have control of the puck.)  The Habs were able to hold on for the win but the injury certainly didn’t help things end on a high note.

HW Habs 3 Stars

1st Star: Kirby Dach – Talk about not getting eased back into action.  A day after having a no-contact jersey in practice, Dach came back and led all Montreal forwards in ice time.  He also scored the opening goal and didn’t look like a player who had missed the last five weeks while playing a different position than he was when he was injured.  A very encouraging return, to say the least.

Stats: 1 goal, +2 rating, 2 shots, 20L27 TOI

2nd Star: Samuel Montembeault – These are the games that Montembeault needs to have more of.  There weren’t many flashy stops, nor was this one that he singlehandedly stole.  This was just a steady performance where he made the saves he needed to including a couple of momentum-stallers.  Not a high-end performance nor a tough one, but a calming, steadying one.  More performances like this will help his long-term NHL future.

Stats: 31 saves on 33 shots, 2.00 GAA, .939 SV%

3rd Star: Mike Matheson – It’s hard to avoid sounding repetitive with Matheson but he continues to log heavy minutes, defend well (particularly in transition to break up a couple of chances), and play a big role in facilitating the offence.  It’s basically the same type of performance he has had a lot in the last month or so but it’s a big difference-maker.

Stats: 1 goal, +3 rating, 5 shots, 3 blocks, 25:14 TOI

Honourable Mention: Jonathan Drouin – He was no worse for wear after the benching and he scored the goal.  There was no residual effect whatsoever from what happened on Saturday.  Good for him and hopefully, this can close the book on something that has been comically blown out of proportion with it being something that many teams around the league do when the same thing happens there.

Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 1 shot, 5/13 faceoffs, 15:36 TOI