MONTREAL -- P.K. Subban could have wound up benched.
The Montreal Canadiens defenseman has certainly found himself glued to Michel Therrien's bench on similar plays to the one he made near the end of the second period of a 3-2 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Bell Centre on Sunday night.
Instead of being benched, however, Subban set up a goal that demoralized the Lightning, coming 2:32 after an apparent go-ahead goal for Tampa Bay had been disallowed and 2:01 after Lightning captain Steven Stamkos left the game with an injury, though he eventually returned for the third period.
Defense - MTL
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 4
SOG: 7 | +/-: 3
Subban took a puck near the Tampa Bay blue line and spun off Lightning forward Ondrej Palat
before doing a wide tour around the entire Lightning zone to eventually set up Brendan Gallagher
at 18:10 of the second period for a 2-1 Canadiens lead.
It is a play that has made Therrien cringe on several occasions this season, but not this time.
"It happened so quickly," Therrien joked, "I didn't have time to be worried."
If Palat had managed to poke the puck away from Subban when he spun around him at the blue line, he would have had a breakaway going the other way.
But he didn't, and instead Subban made a highlight-reel play.
"That's the type of stuff that he can do," Gallagher said, "and there aren't too many players in the world that are able to do it."
Though the play looked every bit like one of the several this season that caused Therrien to sit his defenseman down, he said this one was different because Subban did not take an unnecessary risk.
"It's not as if he put the puck through three pairs of skates," Therrien said. "That would have been high risk. It wasn't. That wasn't the situation. The passing lane was there and he made the right decision."
Subban played a game-high 28:03, often matched against Stamkos, and made two other plays that will show up in highlight reels around the NHL.
The first came right off the opening faceoff when Subban lobbed a puck from his own faceoff circle to the Tampa Bay blue line, springing Rene Bourque for a breakaway goal 11 seconds into the game.
The second was an incredible display of hand-eye coordination, batting a puck that looked to be floating into the net out of the air and out of harm’s way, though the Lightning did wind up scoring a goal that would be disallowed moments later.
Therrien has had a number of moments this season where his relationship with Subban has come under intense scrutiny, and he has always said if the young defenseman played a responsible game he would be rewarded with ice time.
He was responsible on Sunday, and Therrien has perhaps never spoken of Subban as glowingly as he did after Game 3.
"We want P.K. to be solid defensively, and we want all of our players to be responsible with the puck and without it," Therrien said. "That's what we try to teach our team, and that's how we'll have success. P.K. is playing inspired hockey, he's solid and his concentration is there. He's playing the hockey he's capable of playing."