The Lightning clinched a playoff berth almost a month ago, ironically enough when the Canadiens were destroyed 8-2 by Anaheim, ensuring the Habs couldn't catch the Bolts in the standings. The Lightning secured the franchise's first Presidents' Trophy 10 days later on March 18, wrapping up home ice throughout the playoffs.
Since, Tampa Bay has really had nothing to play for, other than chasing the NHL record for wins.
Montreal, meanwhile, is fighting for its playoff life, locked in a battle with Carolina and Columbus for two wild card spots. The Canadiens entered Tuesday on the outside looking in, trailing Carolina by a point and two points behind Columbus. They needed wins and points and fast with just three games to go in the regular season.
Predictably, the Canadiens, on home ice at Bell Centre, had more desperation in their game, and it showed in a 4-2 victory over the Lightning.
Tampa Bay can no longer set the League record for most wins in a season. The best the Lightning can do is match the Detroit Red Wings' 62-win mark from 1995-96.
But that's not really so important in the grand scheme of things. What is important is getting healthy, and, to that end, the Lightning took a positive step forward with the return of defenseman Anton Stralman, who played for the first time since March 5 and led the Bolts for time on ice (22:52).
The Lightning now have just two games left in the regular season.
And then the real fun starts.
Here's what we learned from a lackluster Lightning performance in Montreal.
Video: TBL@MTL: Pasquale snares Gallagher's try with glove
1. STEADY EDDIE
Eddie Pasquale was brought up from Syracuse Monday with Louis Domingue day-to-day because of a lower-body injury.
Facing the second half of a back-to-back, the Lightning gave Pasquale the nod, only the second-ever NHL start for the 28 year old.
In his NHL debut, Pasquale made 19 saves (on 24 shots) through regulation and overtime in a 6-5 shootout victory at the Detroit Red Wings back on December 4.
In Montreal, Pasquale had more saves, 20 to be exact, one minute into the second period.
The Canadiens came out firing from all sections of the ice. And Pasquale was there to turn aside nearly all of them, keeping the game tied 1-1 after the first period and 2-2 after the second and the Lightning in a position to steal the game despite getting drastically outshot.
"I knew they were going to come out kind of firing from everywhere, and that's what they did," said Pasquale, who was ready for the early and often onslaught.
Pasquale made a brilliant glove save on Brendan Gallagher's first period breakaway in a 1-1 game. Moments later, he denied Gallagher again of an open rebound opportunity on the edge of the crease, sprawling in his net to keep the puck under control.
Later, Paul Byron got in behind for another quality scoring chance only to see Pasquale come up big yet again.
"He was probably the only bright thing out of this game from our side anyways," Stralman said. "He played tremendously. A lot of pressure for him coming in here in this building. It's loud, and the way they played, he kept us in the whole game. Just too bad we couldn't put a better effort in front of him."
Pasquale continued to rack up impressive saves in the second and the third, but in the end, the sustained pressure was too much for even the inspired Pasquale to control. The Canadiens scored the go-ahead, game-winning goal and added an insurance tally in a 2:21 span of the third to pull away in a game they frankly deserved to win.
"It was funny, some of the goals that went in and some of the saves he made were a little bit of a reversal," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "He got a little unlucky on a couple, but clearly he was our No. 1 star tonight. It's comforting to know we've got somebody that can come up and play the way he did."
Video: TBL@MTL: Pasquale gets across to rob Shaw's one-timer
2. FLUKY GOALS
Cooper alluded to it in the above quote, but a number of goals scored by both teams were just, well, weird.
The Lightning scored 2:28 into the contest on a shot that probably wasn't even meant to be a shot. Steven Stamkos appeared to center a puck toward the edge of the crease, probably hoping for something good to come out of it, and that's exactly what happened. The puck caromed off what looked to be the leg of Max Domi and past Carey Price to give the Lightning an early 1-0 lead and Stamkos his team-leading 43rd goal of the season.
Stamkos now has 95 points and is two points from tying his career high for points in a season, 97, set in 2011-12.
Montreal leveled the score 1-1 later in the first period on a fluky goal. Jordie Benn dumped the puck into the offensive zone from the center line. Pasquale went behind his net, expecting to play the puck. Except, it hit an official as it was rimming around the boards and never reached Pasquale.
Paul Byron raced to the loose biscuit past the unsuspecting Bolts and fired a pass to a wide-open Nate Thompson in the slot who had time and space to pick his spot and tie the game.
Later, after the Lightning retook the lead 2-1 on Cedric Paquette's career-best 13th goal of the season, Montreal again tied the score on a tough-luck play for the Bolts. Joel Armia had his first attempt at the net denied by Pasquale, had an open net on the rebound but couldn't control the bouncing puck. He finally gathered control below the goal line and, with no other option, banked a shot off of Pasquale and into the net.
The Canadiens would score three-consecutive goals, sparked by Armia's bank shot, to pull away.
"(Pasquale) kept it as close as it was down the stretch," Cooper said. "But Montreal played hard, and they deserved to win."
Video: Jon Cooper on Eddie Pasquale
3. DISPARATE INTENSITY LEVELS
Montreal approached Tuesday's contest with its season on the line. A loss and the Canadiens would be in big trouble, their playoff hopes on life support.
The Lightning, conversely, seemed disinterested.
The Bolts have been able to manufacture interest these last few weeks even with nothing tangible left to play for once the Presidents' Trophy was wrapped up. They've found ways to stay engaged in games and continue racking up wins, even against opponents trying to remain in the playoff hunt or trying to improve their playoff positioning.
In Montreal, however, the Lightning just couldn't match the Canadiens' intensity, and the Habs wore down a Tampa Bay team playing the second half of a back-to-back set and its third game in four days with their sustained relentless style of play.
"We know how to play the game. We've had a pretty darn good year up to this point," Cooper said. "I'm not going to sit here and say this is derailing our year or anything like that. That was a tough back-to-back for us. They were a really desperate team, a playoff-caliber team. We've had good battles with them this year. They got the best of us tonight. We got the best of them earlier this year. That's the way the game goes. It's tough to win them all. Clearly, we've got better than this."
It's good to go into the postseason on a roll, but a late-season surge is not necessarily a predictor of playoff success.
In 2014-15, the Lightning lost four of their final eight games but went on to advance all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. The Bolts dropped three of their last four heading into the 2016 playoffs and then rolled past Detroit and the New York Islanders in the first two rounds in five games each to reach the Eastern Conference Final.
Last season, the Lightning failed in the final game of the season to secure the Atlantic Division championship, falling 3-2 in overtime at Carolina, only to be handed the division a day later when Boston lost to Florida.
Still, it's nice to play well heading into the playoffs to at least calm fans' fears of a dip in play at the worst possible time.
"I think it's important you're going into the playoffs with some type of DNA," Stralman said. "This wasn't a game where we showed what we are. I think it's important going into the Toronto and Boston game that we play to our standards and we play our game, follow the game plan. Because that's the way we're going to be successful and that's what we need to find."