TAMPA – The Canadiens did everything conceivably possible to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night, but it simply wasn’t good enough to secure a key playoff win.
Tyler Johnson’s tally with 1.1 seconds remaining in regulation time lifted Jon Cooper’s contingent to a 2-1 victory at Amalie Arena, enabling the Lightning to grab a three games to none lead in their Eastern Conference Semi-Final series, pushing Michel Therrien’s troops to the brink of elimination.
It was a cruel way for things to play out for the Canadiens, who rallied back from a one-goal deficit to tie things up just past the midway point of the final frame on a goal by Brendan Gallagher. Tampa simply couldn’t generate much of anything offensively for the better part of Game 3, as the Canadiens held their Atlantic Division rivals to just nine shots through 40 minutes of play and 19 shots overall. Unfortunately, the Lightning converted on their final scoring opportunity to ultimately take a stranglehold on the series.
“I don’t know what to say. Ever since I’ve been a member of the Montreal Canadiens, one thing we’ve always done is find a way to win games. It just seems that right now we find ways to lose after playing good hockey. We’re doing everything we’re asked to do, but we’re coming out on the wrong side of things,” offered Gallagher, who scored his second goal of the playoffs on Wednesday night. “That being said, this team is full of character. We’re not going to quit. Now, we have to win four games, and we can’t win four unless we win one. We have to move on. We have to focus on the next one.”
That’s all the Canadiens can do right about now. While they aren’t getting the results they’re looking for in Round 2, they certainly haven’t been disappointed with the way they’ve gone about their business over the last three games. Discipline definitely wasn’t an issue in Game 3, but goal scoring continues to elude the Canadiens despite generating a bevy of scoring opportunities at even-strength.
“For three games, it seems that we’ve been the better team 5-on-5. We’re doing everything we want to do. It’s tough. We talk about playoff hockey. We talk about the emotions and how high and how low you can get. At the beginning of the playoffs, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We’ve certainly dug ourselves a hole that will be tough to get out of,” admitted Gallagher, who accounted for three of the Canadiens’ 31 shots on goal in Game 3. “If anyone’s capable of doing it, though, it’s this group. It’s a matter of moving on, as frustrating as it is. Our team won’t quit.”
That’s something Max Pacioretty was abundantly clear about in the aftermath of the Canadiens’ Game 3 defeat. While the odds aren’t in their favour, the Habs aren’t about to throw in the towel now. They just aren’t built that way.
“We have a special group in this room. We’ve faced a lot of adversity this year. This is obviously one of the biggest times where we’re going to have to face adversity and be strong. But, you can’t do that individually. You’ve got to do that as a team,” explained Pacioretty, who registered a game-high six shots on goal while logging 19:11 of ice time on Wednesday night. “We felt great out there. We played a good game. We have to try and stay positive in this room. This has been done before. But, it’s not done in one day. We’ve got to show up to the rink on Thursday night and play the same way as we did in Game 3.”
Therrien believes they’ll do just that – and then some – in order to keep their playoff hopes alive.
“The only thing a coach can ask is that his team will compete, his team will be ready and his team will work hard. Again, this is exactly what we did, just like in Game 1. The commitment they showed was unreal. I can’t ask for more,” praised Therrien. “The only thing we’re looking forward to now is bringing the series back to Montreal.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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