Down 2-0 in the series, the Montreal Canadiens needed to play their most desperate game so far in the series. They did. The Lightning knew they needed to match that desperation level. For much of the night, they didn’t. But ultimately, it didn’t matter. Thanks to a buzzer-beating goal from Tyler Johnson, the Lightning now lead the series, 3 games to none. Still, if the Lightning hope to eliminate the Canadiens in Game Four on Thursday, they are likely going to need to play a much better overall game.
The first period wasn’t lopsided, though. Instead, it was evenly-played. In fact, the Lightning had an edge because, despite being outshot, 8-6, they produced the better scoring chances. Carey Price made two early terrific saves on J.T. Brown and Valtteri Filppula and also denied a backhand rebound attempt for Ryan Callahan. But Alex Killorn’s shot from the slot beat him on the short side and the Lightning took a 1-0 lead into the dressing room after one period.
The Canadiens began dictating play at the start of the second and maintained that edge for most of the rest of the game. The Lightning lost puck battles all over the ice and struggling to execute clears. Some of those turnovers were forced by Montreal forecheckers – others were unforced. As a result, much of the play occurred in the Lightning defensive zone. To the Lightning’s credit, they defended reasonably well in front of Ben Bishop and did a pretty good job of limiting the number of dangerous Montreal scoring chances. Ben Bishop was terrific in keeping Montreal off the board until the 10-minute mark of the third. Eventually, though, Brendan Gallagher tied the game with 9:57 left when he whacked in his own rebound.
The Lightning did push back on the next shift and Brian Boyle had an in-alone chance on Price. From that point on, both teams had looks down the stretch. The Lightning, of course, made the final play. But that play was the culmination of a dominating shift over the course of regulation’s final minute. The line of Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan put relentless pressure on the Canadiens. Even though the Habs did manage a few clears, they never got it down the ice with possession. As time ticked down, the Habs cobbled together a line change, but the Lightning still caught them in transition. The Bolts moved the puck quickly up ice from their own end and Ondrej Palat cut across the Montreal blue line. He slid the puck to Victor Hedman, who carried it to the bottom of the left circle. Johnson skated to the front of the net and redirected Hedman’s pass through Price’s pads. The goal officially came with 1.1 seconds left on the clock and it gave the Bolts a commanding 3-0 series lead.
As I wrote at the top, the Lightning will need to be better on Thursday, because they have to expect that Montreal will also be better – and the Habs just played their best game in the series. In Game Three, Montreal outshot the Lightning, 31-19, and the shot attempts were even more lopsided. The Habs attempted 69 shots at the Lightning net, while the Bolts only had 41 attempts. That’s not usually a recipe for success. Rather, the Bolts on Thursday will look to generate pressure as they did for much of the first and in the closing minute of the third. If they can do that, they’ll give themselves a chance to win the series in Game Four.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Johnson’s GWG at the buzzer.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 30 saves.
2.Tyler Johnson – Lightning. GWG.
3.Brendan Gallagher – Canadiens. Goal.