MONTREAL - The Canadiens simply couldn't match the desperation of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night.
Jon Cooper's contingent came into the Bell Centre needing a win to stay alive in the race to secure the second wild card in the Eastern Conference, and they did just that, besting Claude Julien's troops by a score of 4-2 as the Canadiens closed out the home portion of their regular-season schedule.
Video: MTL Recap: King, Lehkonen score in 4-2 loss to Bolts
Now, the Lightning find themselves just one point back of the Toronto Maple Leafs with one game left on their calendar. The Maple Leafs, however, still have two to go to officially punch their playoff ticket.
It certainly didn't help the Canadiens' cause to go down 2-0 through 20 minutes of play on goals by Tampa Bay's Yanni Gourde and Nikita Kucherov. That had them playing from behind early, which is never a recipe for success, especially against a club literally scratching and clawing to stave off elimination.
Dwight King's first tally in a Habs uniform at the 9:59 mark of the middle frame had them right back within striking distance, but Alex Killorn lit the lamp just 4:20 later to restore Tampa's two-goal advantage and put them in the driver's seat again.
The two teams traded goals 21 seconds apart in the third period with Artturi Lehkonen bringing the Canadiens back to within a goal at the 4:36 mark short-handed, before Gourde's second marker ultimately sealed the deal at 4:57.
"That was a desperate team we played. They came out firing and they obviously capitalized on some chances that we gave them," said Carey Price, who stopped 18 of 22 shots against in the 500th start of his NHL career. "We have to give that team credit. They played really well."
Video: Carey Price on his last start of the regular season
Julien knew they would. It was inevitable based on the circumstances the Lighting is dealing with standings-wise.
"We expected them to come out strong and they did. That team sees the chance to make the playoffs is there," said Julien. "On our end, defensively, we had some costly breakdowns. Those are things we talked about before the game. A lack of attention hurt us. We had a lot of trouble defensively."
Was that a result of a lack of focus? Not at all, according to Brendan Gallagher, who is adamant the Canadiens didn't take this contest lightly knowing full-well that it wouldn't be an easy affair.
"I was just as excited for this game as any other game. It's part of what we do. It's an opportunity to play and do what we love every night. I think we competed hard. I think we battled hard," said Gallagher. "There were just too many breakdowns at too many crucial times. Good players and good teams, they make you pay."
Video: Gallagher on the Canadiens' home finale
The Canadiens will obviously want to avoid similar defensive lapses when they close out the regular season against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena, trying to go into their first-round playoff series against the New York Rangers on a positive note.
Price, Andrei Markov, Max Pacioretty, Alexander Radulov, Shea Weber and Alexei Emelin didn't travel with the team to Michigan. For his part, Charlie Lindgren will get the start in goal.
"[The Lightning] had five breakaways. That's just not us," said captain Max Pacioretty. "Hopefully, guys are able to kind of erase that from their memory, play a strong game [against Detroit], and pick up where we left off a couple of games ago when we had our full lineup. That's our goal."