Entering Game 4, the Montreal Canadiens had scored just four goals in three games in their Second Round series against Tampa Bay.
During the 2015 NHL Playoffs, the Habs averaged a paltry 1.78 goals per game.
The Canadiens released a few weeks’ worth of frustration in one game, exploding for six goals Thursday night to dominate the Bolts 6-2 at Amalie Arena.
In the process, they broke a string of eight straight losses to the Lightning.
So how do the Lightning regroup after being summarily rebuked in their effort to sweep the Habs?
And why does a 3-1 lead no longer feel as safe as it looks on paper?
1. NOT SO FAST
If Montreal was supposed to lay down on Thursday, turning Game 4 into a 60-minute-long, Lightning-advance party inside Amalie Arena, someone forgot to get the memo to the Habs.
Montreal played loose and carefree, unbound by the shackles of postseason expectations or playing at home or being the higher seed.
The Habs also played their best game of the series and gave the Bolts something to think about on the three-hour plane ride from Tampa to Montreal for Game 5.
“They’re a good team,” Brian Boyle said following Game 4. “They finished first in our division and they’ve got a lot of talent over there, a lot of speed and skill. They’re playing hard, and they’ve got great goaltending. They’re not just going to roll over and die. They’re going to fight, and we expect them to.”
Before Game 4, the Lightning talked of not letting their foot off the gas and going for the jugular.
Instead, Montreal drew blood.
And the Lightning found out just how difficult it can be to close out a good team.
“It’s a lot easier said than done,” Steven Stamkos said. “That’s a team that was on the ropes. Detroit could have said that about us in the First Round. We showed why you never quit in the series. We’re not expecting it to be easy. If anyone in this room expected to come in here and just play the game and that they were going to give us the series, obviously it’s a different story.”
2. STARTING FROM SCRATCH
Asked if he thought Thursday night’s rout might send a stronger message than any coach ever could, Jon Cooper referenced his team’s playoff inexperience, and how, for many of his players, they were experiencing the ups and downs of the NHL Playoffs for the first time.
Of the 23 players on the Lightning roster, 13 had participated in four playoff games or less prior to the 2015 postseason.
The full list (playoff games played before 2015): Mark Barberio (2), Ben Bishop (0), J.T. Brown (4), Jonathan Drouin (0), Tyler Johnson (4), Alex Killorn (4), Nikita Kucherov (2), Vladislav Namestnikov (0), Nikita Nesterov (0), Ondrej Palat (3), Cedric Paquette (4), Andrej Sustr (3), Andrei Vasilevskiy (0).
“Everything’s a learning experience. Everything’s new for us,” Cooper said. “We’ve never been to a Game 7 most of us. For most of us, this is the first time we’d ever won a playoff game. We’ve never been up in a series, ever, until this series. We’ve never been up 3-0. We’ve never been down three-games-to-two, but we’re learning all these things as we go.”
Faced with similar trying circumstances – the prospect of going down 3-1 to Detroit before rallying in Game 4, an elimination game on the road, an elimination game at home – the Lightning have endured.
How will they respond in another difficult spot, closing out an opponent playing with a sense of nothing to lose?
“They’re great experiences for our guys. I know we have much more in us, but what we pull from all this, because something different happens every single night, it’s awesome. It’s fun being a part of this. We’re playing hockey in May. We have a chance to get to the Conference Final. We need to embrace that, and I’m really confident our group will because…all year long we’ve done real well after we’ve lost. This group has rebounded and I expect nothing less from them.”
3. BRIGHT SPOT
Lost in Thursday's beat down was the continued high performance of the Lightning’s power play of late.
The Bolts had three power-play opportunities in Game 4 and converted two. Palat’s power-play goal 17 seconds into the final period sent a flicker of hope through Amalie Arena that the Lightning might have it in them to come back from the five-goal deficit, a feeling that was promptly snuffed when Brandon Prust put the Canadiens back ahead by four goals five minutes into the third.
Sure, the Lightning gave up a shorthanded breakaway to Max Pacioretty, which resulted in the Habs’ second goal and kick-started the rout. But by and large, the power play delivered again for the Lightning in their Second Round series against Montreal.
The Bolts have gone 6-for 18 in four playoff games against the Canadiens, a 33.3 percent success rate.
Keep up that standard with Montreal’s penchant for going to the penalty box, and it should result in the Bolts getting the one victory needed to move on to the Eastern Conference Finals with three more cracks at clinching.