But after playing their best game so far, they also seemed to know exactly what they had to do to send the best-of-7 series back to Tampa for a fifth game.
"We never give up on this team," captain Steven Stamkos said after setting up both Tampa Bay goals despite missing the last few minutes of the second period after being kneed in the head. "We got a lot of character from Day One so we're never going to quit. We're down 3-0 but no one's packing their bags yet."
The Lightning will have to win Game 4 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN-US, CBC, RDS, FS-F) in order to extend their season. To do it, they'll need to show the kind of composure they manifested Sunday night.
Rene Bourque's goal 11 seconds into the game sent the already deafening Bell Centre crowd into a frenzy. But the Lightning withstood more early pressure and trailed only 1-0 at the first intermission. That enabled them to find their legs and their game -- and tie it on a power-play goal by Ondrej Palat 8:39 into the second period.
"You don't envision starting a game like that, but again I don't think we let it get to us," Stamkos said. "We kind of weathered the storm there. We knew they were going to come out hard in front of their home fans and they did. Lindy (Anders Lindback) made some big saves and obviously it's tough to see the first shift get scored on, but I thought we responded well and gave ourselves a chance."
Stamkos and his teammates had to overcome more adversity when what appeared to be a go-ahead goal by Ryan Callahan with 4:22 left in the second period was waved off by referee Francis Charron, who ruled that forward Alex Killorn made incidental contact with Canadiens goalie Carey Price.
"It's a tough call," Stamkos said of the no-goal. "Close games those kinds of calls can make or break you, but I thought we did a good job responding. We worked hard and played well and it was definitely our best game of the series. We probably deserved better, but we can't hang our heads now because our backs are against the wall so we have to put in another effort like that."
Brendan Gallagher put Montreal back in front less than a minute later and Tomas Plekanec's goal early in the third period appeared to give the Canadiens a safe 3-1 lead. But there was no quit from the Lightning and Matthew Carle's goal made it a one-goal game with 8:24 remaining.
Tampa Bay had some chances in the final minutes, but couldn't get a third puck past Price. Stamkos and the Lightning realize they have to maintain the level of play they demonstrated for much of the second half of the game to give themselves a chance to bring the series back to Tampa Bay.
"It's something this year that we've been successful when we're playing like that and for the majority of the time in this series it's coming in spurts right now," Stamkos said. "It's not easy to win games this time of year and you have to be playing your best if you want to give yourself a chance to win. This time in this game we did do that and we did give ourselves a chance. But we gotta find it more consistently."
As Stamkos pointed out, potential clinchers are usually the toughest games for teams trying to close out a series, and it's up to him and his teammates to keep the Canadiens from completing the sweep Tuesday.
"Obviously the next game is a must win and we're in this position so we can't afford to take a shift off because it can cost you the game," Stamkos said. "We just have to be prepared. But the fourth game or the game to close out the series is the toughest. I've been on both sides of it, and we're going to give it our best shot."