MONTREAL – Unfortunately for the Canadiens, it only took two bad bounces to negate over 60 minutes of hard work.
After a scoreless first period, during which an altercation between Brandon Prust and Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop turned into a full-on skirmish between all twelve players on the ice, the visiting Lightning was the first team on the board. Despite playing a man down early in the second, with forward Alex Kilhorn off for interference, the Floridians took a 1-0 lead when Nate Thompson’s centering pass caromed off a backchecking P.K. Subban’s stick and under a sliding Carey Price.
“It was a freaky goal. Those things will happen from time to time,” stated Montreal head coach Michel Therrien, who refused to place blame on either Subban or Price on the bad bounce. Instead, the only thing he wished his team could have done differently was to kick off the matinee match-up with more vigour. “I felt that we started the game slowly, especially against one of the quickest teams in the league in the Lighting.”
The coach’s sentiments were shared by his captain, right-winger Brian Gionta.
“We had spurts where we were good and took the action to the Lightning, but other times, like at the start of the game, we were second on the puck and couldn’t get much going,” acknowledged the veteran, who spent the game skating with usual centerman Tomas Plekanec and a variety of skater on their left wing. He finished the game with 23:57 of ice time in all situations, a team-high among forwards.
With the Lightning carrying the slim lead into the third period, Michel Therrien went back to a combination which has provided him with timely scoring at various points of the season, slotting Daniel Briere to the left of Plekanec and Gionta much to the delight of the 36 year-old from Gatineau, QC.
“I definitely feel a spark playing with Plekanec and Gionta. Every time we line up together since the start of the year, it feels like we can make something happen offensively. That’s what I told myself when I saw that we’d be playing together for more than a shift in the third period,” related Briere, who had two points in the Habs’ last game in Boston.
A bit over seven minutes into the third frame, Briere corralled the puck inside his own blueline, slipped through an oncoming forechecker, and completed a cross-ice pass to a streaking Brian Gionta. The captain skated the puck unimpeded into the Lightning zone before returning the disk back to a wide-open Briere. Making no mistake, number 48 would cradle the feed and fire the puck top-shelf past an onrushing Ben Bishop.
“I braked a bit while cutting to the net to try and find a passing lane [for Gionta],” described Briere after the game. “He made a good play to set me up.”
The way Briere described his seeing-eye wrister, it seemed like the type of shot he’s made a million times before.
“When I got the puck, it felt just like on the practice rink, where you just know where the targets are. I used to the hashmarks as a reference point and just took the shot,” added Briere, who sprinted to center ice while pumping his fist after tying the game at one-all.
The goal siren seemed to awaken both the Bell Centre
audience and the players on the home bench. With the score tied, the Canadiens began working more as a five-man unit on the breakout and started to spend a large proportion of time in the Tampa zone, out-chancing the Lightning the rest of the way.
With the shot count five to one in the Canadiens favour in overtime, however, Nate Thompson once again took advantage of a broken play to put the puck past Carey Price. While disappointed by the outcome of the match, the Habs had some positives to draw upon ahead of Sunday’s matinee against the Winnipeg Jets.
“Carey did a good job to keep us in the game, but don’t forget that Ben Bishop was also very good today. Both he and Price are the type of goalies who can steal games for their teams,” emphasized Therrien, who nonetheless liked the way his team competed and controlled play in the latter stages of the game. Bishop ended the game with 28 saves on 29 shots. For his part, Price made 34 saves, including one on a Nikita Kucherov penalty shot in the first period.
“We’ll have to come out a little quicker at the start of the game,” added Brian Gionta. “We’ll have to do a better job from the start not to get ourselves in a hole, win our boards battles and make sure to avoid turnovers at the blue line too.” As long as the Habs follow that plan, they’ll like their chances against the Jets in 24 hours’ time. Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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