MONTREAL - Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper was emphasizing the improved defensive play of his team Tuesday morning in an attempt to argue that the loss of leading scorer Steven Stamkos to a broken leg would not cripple his team.
The Lightning then went out and proved Cooper right. Valtteri Filppula scored on Tampa's first attempt in the shootout and Ben Bishop stopped all three Montreal Canadiens shooters in a 2-1 victory at Bell Centre.
Bishop made 28 saves through 65 minutes and the Lightning (13-5-0) won for the eighth time in 10 games to extend their lead in the Atlantic Division standings.
The only player standing between the Lightning and a regulation victory was Montreal goaltender Carey Price, who made 44 saves and enabled the Canadiens to get a point on a night they were outplayed.
"This is a team sport, and we are going to move forward, obviously it's a tough spot, but I thought we played well tonight and we could have easily scored more goals, but Carey Price was great," Bishop said. "We hung in there until the end. We get a big goal by [Filppula] in the shootout and get a big two points."
Stamkos underwent surgery in Boston a few hours prior to puck drop to repair a broken tibia he sustained in a 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on Monday. He was hurt while backchecking to prevent Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton from getting to the front of the Tampa Bay net, showing the philosophical change Cooper has instilled in this Lightning team.
"We understand this is not a one-game absence for us; this is one of many, but we do need to bring this type of effort," Cooper said. "But we've pretty much brought this all year, and this was a big step in overcoming what we know is going to be a big challenge for us. But this is a big step for us in understanding that we can overcome it."
That defensive philosophy was evidenced during the first 40 minutes as Tampa Bay shut down the Canadiens down, allowing just 13 shots in two periods.
It looked for a long time as if Ryan Malone's goal early in the first period would be enough for the Lightning. But the Canadiens came on in the third period and tied it with 4:38 left in regulation on a goal by Daniel Briere, playing his first game after missing 10 with a concussion.
After a scoreless overtime, Filppula scored on a wrist shot in the first round of the tiebreaker. Bishop stopped Briere and denied Brendan Gallagher for the win.
If Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman had any doubts about who he should pick as Team Canada's starting goaltender for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Price did everything he could to put them to rest. The only thing he couldn't do was win the game.
"It would have been nice to win," Price said. "We have to take it as a positive that we got a point. We know that we can plan better. When you play a bad game, you have to put it behind you and get ready for the next one
The loss was Montreal's fifth in six games (1-3-2).
"We didn't compete hard enough to have success through two periods," coach Michel Therrien said. "Carey gave us a chance to stay in the game.
"We created some offense in the third period because we played with some urgency. But I am not impressed.
Stamkos' absence forced Cooper to move Brett Connolly to center on the first line between Alex Killorn and Martin St. Louis. On defense he was missing Sami Salo and Keith Aulie, both of whom were also injured in Boston on Monday.
Cooper's players responded well, playing a near-perfect road game through two periods until Briere was credited with the tying goal when a Max Pacioretty shot banked in off his leg.
That gave way to a goaltending duel between Bishop and Price, with both goaltenders executing game-saving stops over the final minutes.
The Lightning had three straight power plays from the 16:27 mark of the third period through the overtime, including 15 seconds at 5-on-3 in overtime, but couldn't solve Price.
Malone opened the scoring at 5:00 of the first when he tipped Eric Brewer's point shot past Price as he was falling after a cross-check by Montreal defenseman Douglas Murray for his third goal of the season.
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