Similar to their last game in Montreal, a 4-2 victory on January 6, the Lightning played one of their best road games of the season. While the score was close – neither team tallied a goal in regulation time – the Lightning dictated play for the majority of the night. It was a game they deserved to win and they were rewarded when Tyler Johnson’s OT centering pass banked off defenseman Tom Gilbert past Carey Price.
In the opening minutes of the game, though, the Canadiens carried play. The Lightning’s forecheck failed to generate turnovers and Montreal spent substantial time in the Lightning zone. But the Bolts defended well without the puck and the Habs didn’t generate any Grade-A chances in those early minutes.
About seven or eight minutes into the first, the Lightning finally enjoyed some extended offensive zone shifts. They were rewarded with a couple of power play chances (though they surrendered three odd-man shorthanded rushes on the first of those). Still, for the rest of the first period, the Lightning cleared their own zone without issue and forced Montreal to work hard in the d-zone. The late stages of the first also featured a flawless Lightning penalty kill, which turned out to be their lone shorthanded situation of the game.
Despite the fact that the Lightning only outshot the Habs, 13-11, in the second period, they continued to decisively dominate play. They did well to get pucks to the front of the net and force Carey Price to make tough saves. They also endured some bad puck-luck. First, the puck rolled off Ryan Callahan’s stick when he appeared poised to tuck a forehand into an open side of the net. Later, after Ondrej Palat froze Price with a faked shot at the left circle and then a pass to Nikita Kucherov in the slot, Kucherov’s attempt toward a wide-open net hit defenseman Jeff Petry and deflected wide.
Montreal spent very little time in the Lightning zone during the second, but they did have one good puck possession shift about five minutes into the period. Ben Bishop made several saves during that sequence. His best stops came later on the frame, moments after a Max Pacioretty penalty expired. Pacioretty came out of the box and stole the puck just inside his own blue line. He countered on a two-on-one with Jacob De La Rose. Bishop stopped both the initial shot from Pacioretty and the rebound attempt from De La Rese.
The third period followed a similar script, even though the Lightning lost Palat to a lower body injury late in the second after he blocked a shot. But even without Palat, the Lightning kept their foot on the gas pedal. The Habs were held to only two shots in the frame, while the Lightning posted 10. The Lightning’s best chance to score in the period came off an Alex Killorn rush down the right wing. He forced his way to the net and took a shot. Price made the save, then make a remarkable second stop on a glorious rebound chance for Callahan.
Finally, in overtime, the Lightning’s puck-luck fortunes turned. Johnson sped down the left wing and stutter-stepped around Gilbert behind the net. He curled back around to the bottom of the right circle and put a shot on net. Price saved it, but the rebound came back to Johnson. He wired the pick from the right circle to the low slot, where Kucherov was positioned. The puck hit Gilbert and ricocheted past Price. Johnson’s winner was his 25th goal of the season, a new career best.
There was much to like about the Lightning’s game tonight. Their team defense and puck management was crisp and clean. The Canadiens’ forwards like to “fly the zone” when the opposition loses the puck in the Montreal end. This can create potential chances off the rush. But the Lightning protected the puck well at the offensive blue line and, when the Canadiens attempted long stretch passes, the Lightning “D” effectively blocked those outlets. The Lightning limited their turnovers and won numerous puck battles in all three zones. Their relentless pressure kept the Habs on their heels. Montreal deserves credit for defending well in front of Price – they blocked 32 shots in the game. But all that defending prevented the Canadiens from mounting much of an attack. In terms of shots attempted (on net, missing the net and attempts blocked), the Bolts had 75 for the game and the Habs posted only 38.
The Bolts have talked about wanting to enter the playoffs “playing the right way”. This game was a textbook example of “playing the right way”.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Johnson’s OT goal.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1.Tyler Johnson – Lightning. OT goal.
2.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 19 saves for shutout win. Very effective at playing the puck.
3.Carey Price – Canadiens. 35 saves.