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Canadiens edge Lightning, take 3-0 series lead

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens are one win away from the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are on the brink of a long offseason.

Carey Price made 27 saves and Tomas Plekanec scored what turned out to the be the winning goal early in the third period of a 3-2 win for the Canadiens in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round series against the Lightning on Sunday night.

Rene Bourque scored his third goal in two games and P.K. Subban had two highlight-reel assists for the Canadiens, who were fueled by a raucous sellout crowd of 21,273 at Bell Centre.

The Canadiens lead the best-of-7 series 3-0 with Game 4 in Montreal on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS, SUN).

Canadiens coach Michel Therrien has preached all season to his players to stay in the moment, to deal with the task immediately before them and not to look too far ahead or behind them. He sees no reason to change that now that the Canadiens are on the verge of advancing to the second round.

"I'm prepared to talk about tonight's game," Therrien said when asked about being up 3-0 in the series. "Tomorrow we can talk about the series, I want to talk about tonight's game. It was an important game coming home after winning twice on the road. It was important to have a good start, and playing at home our fans inspired the players."

Ondrej Palat and Matthew Carle scored and Steven Stamkos assisted on each goal for the Lightning, who had losing streaks of at least three games on two occasions in the regular season and are now experiencing one at the worst possible time.

"I thought we played hard," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "I thought we were determined, I thought we played with passion, I thought we responded unreal.

"It's hard to walk into that locker room and look those guys in the eye when they've played -- clearly, that was our best game we've played in the series -- and I thought we deserved a better fate tonight."

The Lightning had a scare when Stamkos left the game at 16:09 of the second period with an injury.

Stamkos was skating through the neutral zone when he got tangled up with Canadiens forward Brandon Prust and fell. As he was falling, Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin was skating back toward his own zone when he tried to step over Stamkos and struck him in the head with his right knee.

Stamkos went down, tried to get back up and skate to the bench and stumbled before going down on one knee again to wait for the Lightning trainer. He skated to the Lightning dressing room under his own power and missed the remainder of the second period, but returned for the third.

"It was just something I tried to shake off," Stamkos said. "Obviously, games like this you don't want to miss any time, so I want to be out there as much as I can to help our team win. It was close tonight, but not good enough."

The atmosphere leading into the game was electric, with the Canadiens putting together a pre-game presentation that included 3-D lighting on the ice and what has now become a playoff tradition of a child standing at center ice with a torch and lighting the ice on fire.

The chants of "Go Habs Go" were deafening when the teams took the ice for the game, and it drove the home team to a start that couldn't have been much better.

Right off the opening faceoff, the puck went back to Subban in the Canadiens zone. He lofted a puck from his own faceoff circle to the Lightning blue line, where it bounced in between Tampa Bay defensemen Victor Hedman and Matthew Carle right to a rushing Bourque, who fired a shot past Anders Lindback at 0:11 to put Montreal ahead 1-0.

It was the fastest playoff goal ever scored at Bell Centre.

"You want to score early if you can, especially with the energy in this building," Subban said. "You want to get one early and give them something else to cheer about. They've been great for us all year. And they were great again for us."

The Canadiens dominated the rest of the opening 20 minutes, and were it not for Lindback, the Lightning's deficit entering the first intermission might have been three or four goals instead of 1-0.

"If I look at the first period as a whole, if it weren't for Lindback the Lightning would have been in trouble," Therrien said. "You often have scoring chances and then you have what we call A-plus chances. We had a few, so he allowed them to stay in the game. He deserves a lot of credit."

The Lightning came out for the second with much more purpose, driving the play and getting rewarded when Palat scored at 8:39 on a power play after Daniel Briere was called for cross-checking. Stamkos took a shot from the point that bounced in front right to Palat in the slot, who beat Price through the legs for his first career playoff goal.

The Lightning looked to have taken the lead at 15:38 of the second period when Ryan Callahan scored on a scrambling Price, but the goal was immediately waved off by referee Francis Charron.

The sequence began when Alex Killorn drove hard to the net, forcing Price to make a difficult save and sending the puck airborne towards the net. Subban batted it out of the air while the puck appeared on its way into the net, keeping the play going. Price got up and ran into Killorn, who wound up in the Canadiens net after his scoring chance. Price stumbled and as he tried to get back across his crease to stop Callahan's shot he fell, with the puck hitting him and sliding into the net.

"I tried to come back across the net and I tripped over their guy that was right in the middle of the crease," Price said. "At that point, I didn't know what was going on or where the puck was. You can't be in the middle of the crease."

Charron waved the goal off on the incidental contact, but Cooper did not see the play the same way.

"I know what I would have judged, but I'm one person and I'm extremely biased," he said. "But I thought it was a good goal."

Cooper said Charron gave him an explanation at the time of the call and also after the second intermission after seeing a replay, and that the explanation of the call did not change with the benefit of hindsight.

"So it's hard to argue," Cooper said. "In my opinion, I saw it differently. But he's the one making the call, he's a human being, he sees it one way, I see it another."

Stamkos was hit by Emelin 31 seconds later and was still in the dressing room getting treatment when Brendan Gallagher gave Montreal a 2-1 lead at 18:10.

With the teams playing 4-on-4, Subban maintained possession in the Tampa Bay zone and Palat came out to defend him. Subban spun off Palat and wheeled his way around the zone and behind the net, where Palat fell after his stick got jammed in the net.

Subban continued on his tour of the Tampa Bay zone and stopped at the faceoff circle, where he found Gallagher alone on the opposite side of the slot. Gallagher, who had gauze in one nostril after he had gone to the dressing room with a bloody nose, had time to settle the puck down and beat Lindback for his second goal in as many games, his fourth in eight career playoff games.

"He's a great player, one of the best players in the world," Gallagher said of Subban. "You're just trying to get open and he's going to find you."

The return of Stamkos could have inspired the Lightning to come back, but it was the Canadiens who extended their lead at 5:43 when Plekanec scored from the side boards with a shot to the far top corner that eluded Lindback to make it 3-1.

But the Lightning did not go quietly.

Carle brought Tampa Bay to within a goal at 11:36 when he took a pass from Stamkos and beat Price with a shot from the point that went through a Tyler Johnson screen.

It was not enough, and the Lightning will have two days to prepare for what could be their last game of what has been to this point a remarkably successful season.

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