The Canadiens were missing nine regulars, and clearly everyone in the Bell Centre expected to see the home team lose. Everyone, that is, except the Canadiens themselves.
"From the line of questioning I can tell a lot of people thought we might not win tonight, but in this room it didn't feel that way," said Michael Cammalleri, whose shootout winner gave the Canadiens a 3-2 win. "The young guys that played, we felt like they could play. It's kind of news to us, because we went into that game expecting to win the game."
Carey Price followed Cammalleri's goal to start the fourth round of the shootout by stopping Teddy Purcell as he attempted a version of the flip shot made famous by Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk and Edmonton's Linus Omark. But Purcell's did not work at all -- Price calmly gloved the shot, stared Purcell down in the corner and batted the puck back to him.
"I didn't know what he was doing," said Price, who had 35 saves in another dominant performance. "I didn't bite, so whatever he was trying to do...I don't think that's what he had planned out."
Purcell and Simon Gagne scored for the Lightning (39-22-10) while Martin St. Louis got two assists. Of Tampa's last 18 goals scored in regulation over the past seven games, one of Purcell or St. Louis has been in on 15 of them.
The victory allowed the sixth-place Canadiens to pick up a point on both the fifth-place Lightning and the Northeast Division-leading Boston Bruins, who lost 4-3 in overtime in Nashville. Montreal is now three points behind both clubs, with Boston holding a game in hand.
"We knew how important the game was and that we were only ahead of them in the standings by a few points," Gagne said. "To get to overtime was our goal, and you never know what can happen in a shootout."
Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier was given a five-minute major and game misconduct for slashing with 8.5 seconds left in the first period after engaging in a long battle with Canadiens rookie defenseman P.K. Subban that involved each player exchanging a series of slashes and cross-checks. It culminated in Subban giving a slash to Lecavalier as he was coming out in front of the Canadiens net - drawing a minor penalty - and with Lecavalier retaliating with a two-handed swing at Subban's hip that got him tossed.
"They may have had a lot of injuries, but we began the game with seven defensemen and 11 forwards, so when Vinny got kicked out we were down to 10 up front," Gagne said. "We lost a big piece, one that plays a lot of minutes and one that's one of our best players. It wasn't easy playing with three lines for basically 50 minutes."
Lightning coach Guy Boucher said he didn't see the incident live, and had more important matters to take care of between periods to prepare his team to play without a piece as important as Lecavalier.
Losing him compounded a problem that has plagued the Lightning over a stretch where it has two wins over the past nine games, and that's a lack of offense. In six of those nine games and 10 of the last 14, the Lightning has scored two goals or fewer.
"We had some chances, and we can't put them in," Boucher said. "When you're missing a key player it's a lot easier for the opponent to put their best players against our best players because our offence isn't spread out. It becomes tougher for (Steven) Stamkos, it becomes tougher for St. Louis."
Price managed to stop both Stamkos and St. Louis in the shootout by using the poke check, foiling another spin-o-rama attempt by St. Louis.
"He pulled me apart in the All-Star game with a move that was something like that," Price said. "When he comes in backwards like that, I kind of knew what to do."
His Tampa Bay counterpart Dwayne Roloson was not as busy but was equally strong with 27 saves.
The Lightning's killer combination of St. Louis and Purcell connected to get Tampa on the board 35 seconds into the second period, with Purcell converting the rebound of a St. Louis point shot on a 4-on-3 power play.
Kostitsyn answered at 5:40 when he tipped home a nice feed from David Desharnais for his 18th of the season, giving him 5 goals and 6 assists in his last 11 games.
The Canadiens jumped into the lead at 3:58 of the third when St. Louis turned the puck over at the Montreal blue line, sending Gionta in alone on a shorthanded breakaway that he converted with a deke to the backhand for his 25th of the season.
But exactly three minutes later, Benoit Pouliot took two penalties on the same play, including one for roughing when he hit Dominic Moore long after the whistle had blown to give Tampa a four-minute power play. It was during the second of those power plays that the Lightning tied it, with a St. Louis knuckleball from the point getting tipped home by Gagne at 9:29 of the third for his 12th of the season and second in three games.
Still, in spite of the blown lead, the Canadiens fans appreciated the effort of a team missing regulars Tomas Plekanec, Jeff Halpern, Mathieu Darche, Max Pacioretty, Hal Gill, Brent Sopel, Jaroslav Spacek, Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges, deeming the point for reaching overtime as an accomplishment worthy of a salute.
But the Canadiens went ahead and did them one better.