The Tampa Bay Lightning had Monday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens circled on the calendar from the moment the 2015-16 regular season schedule was announced.
No game is more important than another over 82 games – except for a late-season contest with playoff implications – but matchups with Montreal just seem to have a different air about them. The two teams have met up twice in the playoffs the last two seasons, each team winning one series.
The Lightning swept the Canadiens in the 2014-15 regular season, this coming after the Canadiens swept the Bolts in the 2014 Playoffs.
A nice rivalry has developed between the two teams. For the Lightning, Montreal provides a measuring stick of sorts, the Habs nearly always at the top of the division and conference standings throughout the course of any given season.
Monday’s 4-3 shootout loss shows the Bolts still have some work to do to regain their form from a year ago.
Where did the Lightning go wrong against Montreal? And how will Monday’s hard-luck loss affect the team.
All that and more in today’s Three Things.
1. THE FOLLOWING SHIFT
Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper often says the most important shift is the one after a goal.
The Lightning found out why on Monday.
After scoring back-to-back goals 21 seconds apart to take a 3-2 lead, their first of the game, the Lightning had an opportunity to pull within two points of Montreal in the Atlantic Division standings.
If they could only hold on
Montreal needed only 32 seconds to level the score, Dale Weise sliding a puck under Ben Bishop that initially looked to have been cleared away before crossing the goal line but was correctly counted following a review at the next stoppage in play.
“That’s a tough one to give up for sure,” Cooper said.
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos expressed disappointment in the locker room following the game, calling the goal “unacceptable,” lamenting the three-point swing that resulted. Instead of pulling to within two points of the Canadiens, the Lightning now find themselves five points back of the Atlantic leaders.
“We had a lead with six minutes left in the game, it’s frustrating that they get one,” Stamkos said. “In my eyes, we gave away a couple points tonight.”
2. CHANCES GALORE
The Lightning had a number of opportunities to score considerably more goals than the three they managed to slip past Montreal goalie Mike Condon on Monday.
The Bolts recorded 39 shots, tying a season-high for most shots in a game (Nov. 16 vs. Florida). Within those 39 shots, they had quite a few golden chances, but whether the puck hopped over a stick or slid off a stick before a shot could be fired or Condon got in the way of a puck headed for an open net, the Lightning just couldn’t bury them.
“The second and even in the third we had some quality chances, but I thought we had some really Grade As in that second period that (Condon) made some big stops on,” said Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan, who snapped a 22-game goal drought with his go-ahead goal in the final period. “Going into the third, I thought we had a lot of confidence in the room. We felt good about our game. We just wanted to carry that over, and we did. We ended up scoring two goals in the third, and we can’t hold on to it.”
Midway through the second period, Stamkos ripped a slapshot from the right circle that struck Condon in the mask, knocking it off and leaving Condon woozy for a few moments.
The Habs goalie collected himself and proceeded to make one spectacular save after another over the final minutes of the second to preserve Montreal’s lead heading into the third period.
“That’s the way it is,” Stamkos said. “Their goaltender made some big saves. Bish made some big saves. We’ve got to find a way. We found a way to get the lead in the third. We’ve got to close it out.
3. THE GOOD AND THE BAD
There were a few positives to draw from Monday’s overtime loss.
The Lightning earned a precious point to remain within striking distance of the leaders in the Atlantic.
The Bolts showed character in battling back twice from deficits and then grabbing the lead in the third period.
They continued their increased goal output of late. The Lightning have scored 22 goals over their last six games, an average of 3.67 per game, a far cry from their days of getting shut out in two-straight games and scoring two goals over a four-game stretch in late October.
But, the Lightning gave away two badly-needed points to a team they’re trailing in the standings. And in doing so, they gave away a lead late in a game they should have won in regulation.
“There’s some positives (to the game), but at the same time, against a team like this we’re chasing, we want those two points,” Callahan said. “It’s a costly one to give away.”
The Lightning won’t get another crack at the Canadiens until February 9 when they meet at the Bell Centre.