The Lightning have won all four meetings with the Canadiens so far this season with one more to go (at Montreal, March 30). The Bolts have outscored the Habs 16-5.
With the win, Tampa Bay moves into a tie with Montreal for the top spot in the Atlantic Division (the Canadiens have a game in hand, though) and pulls within two points of the New York Rangers for first place in the Eastern Conference.
Last night’s game had it all: unreal saves, world-class goals, hard hits and a few fights tossed in. The following are the three biggest takeaways from a fun evening.
1. BOLTS PENALTY KILL COMES UP BIG
Moments after puck drop on Monday, the Lightning found themselves in trouble after Brenden Morrow was given a four-minute double minor for high-sticking at 2:21. Montreal had a chance to score multiple goals early, but the Bolts penalty kill dug in and prevented the Canadiens from even sniffing the net.
“It wasn’t even like we gave them many quality looks to have momentum swing their way,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who scored twice in the win. “We did a great job.”
Montreal converted on its third power-play attempt when Tomas Plekanec’s cross-crease feed for Alex Galchenyuk on the back post tipped off the stick of Ben Bishop and slipped underneath the Lightning goalie for the Canadiens’ first goal.
Montreal had a more critical opportunity late to tie the score on the power play with just over seven minutes remaining and trailing by a goal. Again, the Lightning penalty kill did its job, keeping the puck out of the net to secure a pivotal victory in the race for the Atlantic Division championship.
“The PKs really, I don’t know the stats from Christmas on what our PK is, but I bet you we’re sitting in the top five,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “And it’s been a big strength of ours. You start winning the special team wars, things are going to roll for you.”
The Lightning penalty kill (83.2 percent) ranks ninth in the NHL. At home, the Bolts are second in the league (86.8 percent).
“PK has been something that we’ve worked extremely hard on throughout the season, and there’s no wonder why we’re climbing the ranks because they’re putting in the work,” Stamkos said.
2. BISHOP GETS BURNED
With the third period having just started, Bishop went behind his goal to play a puck like he’s done so often this season.
It’s a risky move for Bishop to come out of his goal as often as he does. A few times this season, it’s looked like he’s about to be cornered only to deliver an accurate pass out of trouble.
On Monday, Bishop got caught for the first time all year.
It resulted in Montreal’s second goal and a huge shift in momentum for the remainder of the game.
Plekanec read Bishop’s movement and knocked his pass down to gain control. With Bishop scrambling to get back in net, Plekanec dished to Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau alone in front, who had no problem scoring on the empty goal.
Bishop was understandably displeased with himself following the play, but he made it a point from that moment forward to keep the Canadiens off the scoreboard the rest of the way.
“Kind of just said to myself, ‘That’s it. No more,’” Bishop said postgame. “Obviously, I scored on myself the first one and then caught the one on the second one.”
Bishop made several big stops down the stretch to preserve the victory, but going forward, he’ll need to be more careful when stepping out of the net to play the puck.
Lightning center Mike Angelidis has played three games since being recalled from Syracuse on March 12 following injuries to forwards Ondrej Palat and Cedric Paquette.
The 29-year-old hasn’t seen a ton of ice time in those contests, racking up 13 shifts and just over seven minutes TOI in each.
His impact, however, has been immediate.
Midway through the first period, Angelidis dropped the gloves at the center circle with notorious Montreal instigator Brandon Prust, the fight ending quickly when Angelidis fell backwards onto the ice trying to get a better grip on Prust’s jersey.
About seven minutes into the second period, Prust took a cheap shot at Bishop, who went behind his goal to play the puck, instigating a near line brawl.
Angelidis bided his time until he ran into Prust again. When he did early in the third, he let Prust know his actions wouldn’t be tolerated, getting into a second fight with the pest Prust.
When Cooper was the head coach of the Lightning’s then-AHL affiliate in Norfolk, Angelidis was the Admirals’ captain and helped the team win the Calder Cup to conclude the 2011-12 season.
For the past three seasons, he’s served as the Syracuse Crunch’s captain.
“I’ve watched it for years. When I came into pro, (Angelidis) came to Norfolk,” Cooper said. “He was our captain down there, and there’s a reason for that and you saw it tonight. That’s what his blood spells is team. It’s great being able to have guys like him around.”
Angelidis will do anything that benefits the team. He proved it again on Monday, sacrificing himself to defend a teammate.