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Burns: 3 Things we learned from outlasting Montreal

Bryan Burns on Vasilevskiy coming up big, a fast start and a solid third period

by Bryan Burns @BBurnsNHL /

Don't look now but the Tampa Bay Lightning are going on that run their captain prophesized before the Christmas break.

The Lightning extended their season-long win streak to five in a row after holding on for a 2-1 victory in Montreal on Thursday. Nikita Kucherov put the Bolts back in front 8:28 into the opening period to give them a 2-1 lead, and that go-ahead goal held up over the final 51 minutes, proving to be the game-winner.

Tampa Bay has won all three meetings against Montreal this season with one more to go (March 5 in Tampa). The Lightning pushed their win streak against Atlantic Division opponents to 13 games.

Meanwhile, a couple weeks ago, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said his team needed to go on a run and string together four, five, six wins. At the time, the Bolts had been on a roller coaster ride of sorts, winning a few, losing a few but never able to put together multiple wins in a row

The Lightning had been playing well, Stamkos theorized, even if the final score didn't always show it.

Now the Lightning are getting results too.

And they're starting their push toward the top of the Atlantic Division standings.

Here's how the Bolts were able to extend a couple of win streaks in Montreal.

Video: TBL@MTL: Vasilevskiy turns away Weal at the doorstep

Just when whispers were starting to grow that maybe Andrei Vasilevskiy was having a down season coming off his Vezina Trophy campaign in 2018-19, the Lightning goaltender has cobbled together some of his best starts of the season, quieting the doubters.

Vasilevskiy went 8-2-1 in December, his eight wins tied with Pittsburgh's Tristan Jarry for most in the National Hockey League during the month. And he carried over his hot play into 2020 with one of his top performances of the season Thursday night in Montreal, stopping 38-of-39 shots as Tampa Bay's unquestioned best player on the ice.

Vasilevskiy hasn't stolen too many games for the Lightning this season, but the win in Montreal might have been one of them.

"I felt pretty good," said Vasilevskiy, who won his fourth-consecutive start and is 8-1-1 over his last 10. "Had lots of shots against and stayed in the game the whole time. I said that before it's easier for me to play with 30, 40 shots against than with 10 shots against. I felt actually pretty good, and we did a great job blocking shots. We were pretty good in the blue paint on all those scrambles."

Vasilevskiy was locked in early. With the Lightning up 2-1 midway through the first period - all three goas in the contest were scored in the first nine minutes - Vasilevskiy made one of his signature highlight-reel saves against the Canadiens Max Domi, who found himself all alone out in front. As Vasilevskiy was falling forward, he made a swipe of Domi's shot with his blocker and kicked his right leg up from behind. It was hard to tell on replay which got a piece of the puck, the blocker first on the skate as the final line of defense. Vasilevskiy wasn't too sure after the game either.

The important part, though, is it stayed out, and the Lightning stayed in the lead.

"Got lucky on that one," Vasilevskiy admitted. "Never give up."

That early remarkable save galvanized Vasilevskiy's play the rest of the game. The Big Cat was in complete control throughout and helped the Lightning overcome an uneven second period to close out the one-goal win in the third.

"He was outstanding tonight," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "Post-to-post plays that only a few guys can make saves on, and Vasy's always one of those guys. He was huge for us tonight."

Video: TBL@MTL: Cirelli tips one home to stake early lead

When the Lightning faced the Canadiens five nights earlier in Tampa, the Habs were relentless in the opening period in building a 2-0 lead on the scoreboard and an 18-0 advantage on the shot counter. The Bolts were forced to play from behind in that contest but did enough good things from the 15-minute mark on to overcome their sloppy start and rally for the win.

Slow starts continued to plague the Bolts in subsequent wins versus Detroit and at Buffalo. Beginning the game on time was a point of emphasis in Montreal.

Boy was it ever.

The opening shift was a tone setter for the Lightning. They worked the puck into the offensive zone and kept it buried there for an extended push by working the puck from low to high, retrieving loose pucks and forcing turnovers deep in the zone.

Finally, a shot from the point by Erik Cernak with Anthony Cirelli and Steven Stamkos lurking in the slot was tipped past Carey Price and into the back of the net to give Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead just 42 seconds into the contest.

Cirelli was eventually credited with the deflection that sent the puck into the net for his 10th goal of the season.

"The past four or five games, we've had really tough starts," Lightning forward Alex Killorn said. "So we just wanted to have a good start. Scoring that goal was nice, but we just wanted to gain some momentum and play in their zone, so it was a good shift to start."

The Lightning maintained their momentum on the next shift and continued to possess the puck in the offensive zone. Montreal finally started to crack the Bolts stranglehold on the puck and began generating offense of their own. The Canadiens broke through 5:48 into the contest, Jeff Petry wristing a shot from the right circle over the glove of Vasilevskiy at the far post to level the score 1-1.

Tampa Bay quickly climbed back in the lead, though. Brayden Point forced Price into a turnover at the goal line to the right of goal and squared a pass through the goal mouth to a wide-open Nikita Kucherov on the back post for the Russian to tap home 2:40 after Petry's marker.

Kucherov's 14th goal of the season would hold up over the final 51 minutes of the contest as the game-winner.

"We've found different ways to win games," Hedman said. "Today we had the lead from a great first shift, we scored right away and we played with a one-goal lead for the rest of the game…Different games we're finding different ways to win games."

Video: TBL@MTL: Vasilevskiy stymies Petry's late bid 

In the past this season, the Lightning have entered the third period with a lead only to watch it evaporate.

To be a good team, the Bolts stated, they'd need to learn how to close out games when leading after two periods of play.

The Lightning did a masterful job staying in front in Montreal to hold on to the one-goal victory.

Throughout the third, it felt like Tampa Bay could secure the win with just one more goal. That insurance tally never came, but the Lightning didn't need it either. That's because they clamped down defensively, keeping the majority of Montreal's shots to the perimeter, eliminating second-chance opportunities and cleaning up the area in front of the net so Vasilevskiy could see everything coming his way and not have to worry about in-close chances against.

"I think they played desperate in the third, but I think we did a good job not giving them any Grade-As," Hedman said. "They had some great looks, but Vasy made some unbelievable saves. A win is a win. We'll take the two points."

Montreal's best chance to tie the game came midway through the third when Ondrej Palat was whistled for a tripping penalty during a 4-on-4 situation. The Canadiens got about 30 seconds of a 4-on-3 advantage before going on a traditional power play.

Montreal only managed one shot on goal for the duration. In fact, the Canadiens only had one power-play shot over their three power-play opportunities on Thursday.

"We knew they were going to come," Killorn said. "We knew they were going to be aggressive. They just kind of keep in shots from the outside. Vasy doesn't mind those shots. He's told us that a bunch of that as long as we take care of the danger zone which is right in front of our net."

The Lightning were good defensively in the third with the game on the line. Vasilevskiy was really good against anything that made its way through.

And the Bolts are traveling on to Ottawa with a five-game win streak in tow.

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