As they did on Thursday in Toronto, the Lightning kept their playoff hopes alive with a regulation victory. While the Lightning exhibited the same level of desperation as they did in Toronto, this one unfolded a little differently. The Lightning were playing the second half of a back-to-back against a rested opponent. That aforementioned high compete level is tiring and the Lightning had to dig deep to get this game across the finish line.
But get it across the finish line they did. This is the formula that worked for the Lightning. They used an outstanding first period to build a two-goal lead. Then, in the second and third periods when the Canadiens made a push, the Bolts twice produced timely goals shortly after Montreal had cut the lead to one. Throughout the night, they defended extremely hard and contested loose pucks. They battled their way through three successful third period penalty kills. And when they had breakdowns, Andrei Vasilevskiy provided some potential game-saving (and season-saving) stops.
Video: TBL@MTL: Vasilevskiy stretches to make a great save
Vasilevskiy made an acrobatic first period save on a Montreal wraparound attempt, but that was his toughest save in the frame. Instead, most of the activity in the first period occurred in the Montreal zone. The Lightning repeatedly attacked the Montreal end with speed and forced Carey Price to make a handful of tough saves. In particular, Nikita Kucherov was especially dangerous in the first period. He had six shot attempts, including an early point blank chance from the slot that Price stopped. But just past the halfway point of the period, Kucherov zipped a shot from the slot that clanged off the crossbar. Price was out of position on the rebound, which came directly to Yanni Gourde at the right circle. Gourde put it in the net for a 1-0 Lightning lead.
Kucherov would add to the advantage in the closing seconds of the first. After the Lightning forced a turnover in their own end, Ondrej Palat floated the puck down the ice. After it landed, Kucherov picked it up, swooped in on Price and whistled a shot from the left circle over Price's stick. The goal came with just under 10 seconds left in the period. It was Kucherov's 40th goal of the season.
Over the final 40 minutes, the Lightning weren't able to maintain the same level of puck possession. But they weren't passive. The Habs did got a goal back midway through the second when the Lightning lost track of Dwight King coming off the Montreal bench. He took a long outlet and scored on a breakaway. But Alex Killorn answered that goal at 14:19 with a great individual effort. Cory Conacher cleared a puck to center ice, where Killorn touched it past Brandon Davidson towards the Montreal end. Killorn outraced Davidson to the puck and chipped it past Price's glove. That gave the Bolts their two-goal lead back.
The third period was a grind for the Lightning. Much of it was spent in the Tampa Bay zone. After recording just 15 shots in the first two periods, the Habs had 14 more in the third period alone. They cut the Lightning lead to 3-2 when Artturi Lehkonen's shorthanded backhand shot deflected off Victor Hedman past Vasilevskiy. But just 21 seconds later, moments after the Lightning power play expired, Conacher wired a backdoor feed to Gourde, who put it into the top of the net.
Video: TBL@MTL: Kucherov nets his 40th goal of the season
The Lightning had to kill an early third period penalty, then two more in the second half of the third. Vasilevskiy made an incredible stop on a rebound chance for Alexander Radulov during the second of those three third period power plays. Then, during a six-on-four penalty kill in the closing minutes, Palat blocked three separate Montreal shot attempts. Time eventually ran out on the Canadiens.
If Pittsburgh can defeat Toronto on Saturday, the Lightning will still be alive for a playoff berth when they host Buffalo on Sunday. If that's the case, they'll need to win that final regular season contest, which will be their sixth game in nine nights, and hope to get more help on the out-of-town scoreboard.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Brian Engblom):
Killorn's goal to make it 3-1.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Brian Engblom):
- Nikita Kucherov - Lightning. Goal (40th of the season) and assist.
- Yanni Gourde - Lightning. Two goals.
- Ondrej Palat - Lightning. Assist.