The Lightning were finally reasonably healthy coming into the game tonight. Starting goalie Ben Bishop and captain Steven Stamkos are still injured of course. But Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin, Braydon Coburn, and Victor Hedman were all back to playing as normal after all had suffered varying degrees of injury in the last week. But before the game, the Lightning announced the team would be dealing with another unexpected absence as Valtteri Filppula was suspended from the game for missing a meeting earlier in the day.
As has been the case so many times this season, the Bolts gave up the first goal. This time, it wasn’t due to poor defensive play but instead due to a mistake by goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasi misplayed the puck behind the net leading to an easy goal and a 1-0 lead for the Canadiens. The Lightning have found lots of different ways to fall behind in games this season and this was another one to add to the collection.
Radulov scores an easy one after Byron pressured Vasilevskiy into coughing up the puck. pic.twitter.com/hwvvIkwKEU— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) December 29, 2016
Following the goal, Montreal controlled the play. The Lightning struggled to get out of the defensive zone, which has also been a theme this season. They struggled to get through the neutral zone and mustered very little offensively. In a throwback to the ‘14-’15 season, the Triplets’ jump started the team by scoring against the run of play on a beautiful tic-tac-toe goal. Both passes preceding the goal crossed the royal road and even a great goaltender in Carey Price had no chance at making a stop. Tyler Johnson buried the shot following the passes from Kucherov and Ondrej Palat to set up the goal.
The game was much more even following the Lightning goal than it had been prior. Both teams had stretches of meaningful possession and created opportunities. The Lightning again surrendered the lead after Victor Hedman took an unnecessary holding penalty. On the goal, Paul Byron slid the puck from behind Vasilevskiy through the slot across the royal road to Shea Weber who buried it. That kind of pass makes it almost impossible for a goaltender to stop the shot and the burden for that goal falls more on the Lightning defenders. They simply can’t allow passes like that to get through the slot. They’re too dangerous.
Weber PP goal. Good movement from the Habs on that goal. They actually made the goalie move during the PP. pic.twitter.com/4lEA9IF1Tk— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) December 29, 2016
They Lightning started the second period playing well and looked to have a guaranteed equalizing goal early in the period as Drouin and Palat combined to create a beautiful scoring opportunity. But as he tends to do, Price stole the goal and kept the Habs in the lead.
Ridiculous Carey Price save #47631 pic.twitter.com/3wql6Hbja2— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) December 29, 2016
A couple minutes later, Vlad Namestnikov misfired on a pass to Alex Killorn that sent Montreal out a break eventually leading to another goal. A 3-on-2 became a 3-on-1 after Slater Koekkoek dropped to the ice in an effort to disrupt the play. Credit to the Canadiens who finished clinically with a goal by Chris Terry.
Tic-Tac-Toe. Nice play by McCarron-Carr-Terry pic.twitter.com/ujIQNAmJbV— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) December 29, 2016
Facing a two-goal deficit, the Lightning played fairly well for the rest of the period. The Triplets in particular were dangerous in the offensive zone creating passing lanes and forcing Price to make difficult saves. The Bolts controlled play for most of the second half of the period. They went on the power play in the final minutes but were unable to generate much offense. Drouin and Kucherov didn’t get on the ice until the final minute of the power play. They managed to create one good scoring chance for Alex Killorn on a deflection from the slot but Price again made the save.
For the first ten minutes of the third period, it looked like the game was over. Montreal was mostly controlling the pace and preventing Tampa from generating any sort of dangerous offense. On a play near the benches, Shea Weber boarded Namestnikov resulting in Namestnikov missing the rest of the game. At that point, the game seemed largely over. But with just over eight minutes left, Hedman found an opening in Price beating him back post off a pass from Kucherov. But with just eight minutes left, it seemed unlikely they would be able to find another goal against the formidable Price.
Hedman cuts the lead to one pic.twitter.com/ksvlRDckcO— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) December 29, 2016
With under five minutes left, the Lightning drew a penalty. The power play didn’t start very well but about half way through, the Lightning established possession thanks to an aggressive forecheck by Brian Boyle. During that possession Palat found himself open at the right faceoff dot with Boyle setting a full screen directly in front of Price. Palat took advantage and tied the game beating Price shortside. What once seemed to be a guaranteed loss was suddenly a tie game.
Palat goal. TB has been using the Habs D as a screen all night. Add the TB player in front as another screen, and you have a blind goalie. pic.twitter.com/5VIohkP3Xm— Paul Campbell (@WayToGoPaul) December 29, 2016
Shortly after the tying goal, the Bolts were called for a too many men penalty that negated a breakaway for Kucherov and thus, spent the end of the game killing a penalty. During that shorthanded stretch, the Lightning generated more opportunities than the Canadiens and came close to winning the game with a shorthanded goal. Both teams managed to survive the final minutes and the game progressed to overtime.
The 3-on-3 overtime started fast and stayed that way. Neither team seemed particularly interested in possessing the puck and regrouping as we typically see in 3-on-3. Instead, both attacked aggressively looking to score on the rush. The Canadiens had a 2-on-1 with Radulov and Pacioretty but Pacioretty was unable to get a clean shot and the Lightning recovered the puck. Instead of regrouping, Johnson skated the puck into the Montreal zone on the rush. And on what seemed like a relatively low quality chance with a defender on him and Price fully set to defend the shot, Johnson found the net and grabbed the win for the Bolts.
Johnson goal. Again, Price follows a touch ahead of puck. Watch blocker come in for a split second before going out. Not rdy for wide shot. pic.twitter.com/A5xK3yBrYU— Paul Campbell (@WayToGoPaul) December 29, 2016
For a team that has struggled as much as the Lightning relative to expectations, a win like this over the division leader is big. While we should be careful about putting too much stock in one December win, I’m sure the team will be feeling good about the comeback and looking to build on some of the positives from their effort tonight. The Lightning lead on the shot clock for most of the game and eventually came back to take the lead on the scoreboard. Being rewarded for good play has to be a great feeling for the team and hopefully, they can continue to play well into the holiday weekend.