Turnovers crept into the Lightning's game in the third period after limiting them through the first two periods. Tampa Bay had to rely on goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy far too often down the stretch. And the Lightning took five penalties to Montreal's one.
But the Lightning left the Bell Centre with a win, and a welcome one at that after their poor effort three days earlier in Ottawa.
"Still a long way to go in our game, but in saying that, I thought the guys gamed it out and for the most part they made the right plays when they should have and it turned into two points," Cooper said.
The negatives weren't negatives for very long. The turnovers weren't egregious like they had been in games prior. Vasilevskiy was up to the task under increased pressure late, making 33-of-34 saves to earn his third win of the season. And the penalty kill, after giving up a goal on Montreal's first power play, shut down the Habs over the final four opportunities to preserve the Bolts' third win of 2019-20.
Tampa Bay will look for its first win streak of the season when it concludes a season long-tying six-game road trip Thursday at Boston.
Here are Three Things that got the Lightning back in the win column on Tuesday.
Video: Stamkos, Vasilevskiy lead Lightning past Canadiens
1. AN IMPROVED PENALTY KILL
When Jeff Petry shot from the top of the circle past Vasilevskiy on a power play with less than five minutes to go in the first period, Tampa Bay's penalty kill must have been thinking, "Here we go again."
The Lightning had given up five power-play goals in five games entering Montreal and has been a point of concern.
But the work the penalty kill did the rest of the way went a long way in allowing the Bolts to prevail.
Montreal got four more power plays, all while trailing 3-1, and yet weren't able to capitalize because of the Lightning penalty kill. They played with desperation, blocking shots, getting in shooting lanes and keeping the area in front of Vasilevskiy's net clean.
"They did a tremendous job after giving up that first one," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "We shut them down, and that was probably the key to the game."
The penalty kill was effective because it was disruptive. The Lightning's PKers closed down shooting lanes. They blocked shots. They denied passing lanes. And they tied up sticks and kept potential goal scorers off balance when Vasilevskiy gave up a rare rebound.
The final score sheet will show the Lightning penalty gave up a goal Tuesday night.
But the way that unit played after surrendering that goal is encouraging for the future.
"We blocked shots. We tried to force them as much as we could. We tried to keep them to the outside, and Vasy was really good when we needed him to be good," Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn said. "He was able to just kind of swallow any pucks that were right around the crease."
Video: TBL@MTL: Johnson scores to finish nifty passing play
2. QUICK-STRIKE CAPABILITY
After going down 1-0 late in the first period, the Lightning had a response right before the first intermission.
The Bolts kept the puck buried in the Canadiens' zone for the final minute of the first, even possessing the puck enough to get a line change in the offensive zone while the Habs were running on fumes.
The sustained pressure paid off. Stamkos, with former Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin draped all over him, slid a pass into the high slot for Braydon Coburn to fire home and tie the game 1-1 with seven seconds to go in the opening period.
"That was huge," Coburn said. "For me it's great. You never know when that first one of the year is going to come, so it's good to get that monkey off my back. I think I've been playing against Price since he was 16 in Tri-City. I don't know how many goals I have against him, but that one definitely felt good for me."
Added Stamkos: "We were the beneficiaries of getting on the ice against some tired players because of the work that (Anthony Cirelli's) line did out there. We changed, we were able to get some fresh legs out and we capitalized. Unselfish play on their part and that kind of gave us some momentum."
That momentum extended into the second period where the Lightning would score twice in the first 2:01 to grab the lead and take control.
On their only power play of the game, the Lightning took their first lead 1:04 into the second when Victor Hedman slid a pass over to the left circle for Stamkos to hammer home, the Tampa Bay captain netting his team-best fourth goal of the season and 397th career goal, three away from reaching the 400-goal milestone.
Just :57 seconds after Stamkos' goal, Tyler Johnson added an insurance marker with his shot from the slot that beat Carey Price.
The Lightning wouldn't score - and wouldn't need to - the rest of the way.
"That's the skill we have on this team is that we can strike quick, we can strike quick like that and we can take advantage of our opportunities," Coburn said.
Video: TBL@MTL: Vasilevskiy turns away Drouin and Petry
3. VASILEVSKIY CLOSES OUT THE WIN
Fittingly with the Major League Baseball playoffs in full swing, Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy did his best Mariano Rivera impression and closed out the 3-1 victory for the Bolts.
Vasilevskiy was solid throughout his start in Montreal Tuesday, the Russian making 33-of-34 saves to pick up his third victory of the season and improve to 8-0-2 in his last ten starts versus the Habs.
He saved his best for the final period.
Still trailing 3-1 at the start of the third period, Montreal sustained enormous pressure on the Lightning goal at the beginning of the period and continued to buzz around the net throughout the final minutes, Vasilevskiy making several point-blank stops to keep the Bolts' lead at two. Max Domi, Artturi Lehkonen and Brendan Gallagher all had good chances to get the Canadiens closer, but Vasilevskiy gained confidence as the game wore on and by the third period he was an impenetrable brick wall between the pipes.
Vasilevskiy stopped all 14 shots he saw in the third period, the Canadiens most prolific period shot-wise of the game.
"He made some great saves," Hedman said. "He's so quick in the net. Vasy's the best goalie in the world and he proved that again tonight."
The Lightning penalty kill came up big in the victory, but Vasilevskiy might have been the unit's best killer with his ability to make a timely stop and give his teammates in front of him the confidence that if they do their job, the man behind them would clean up any mistakes.
When you're killing penalties as long as we did, we weren't getting clears. We spent a lot of time in the zone and that goalie's got to be huge for us and he was," Cooper said.