The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 on Tuesday night meaning they’ve now alternated wins and losses in their last four games. The Bolts got goals from Braydon Coburn, Steven Stamkos, and Tyler Johnson in the victory. Andrei Vasileksiy was the best player on the ice for either team making several stellar saves and ensuring that the lead held up under multiple flurries of heavy pressure from Montreal.
This wasn’t a dominant performance from the Lightning but it was more aligned with how they played through much of last season. They played about fifteen minutes of spectacular hockey from the end of the first period into the beginning of the second and relied on that stretch to provide enough offense to win the game.
The first period started with a good pace. The teams traded possessions but neither generated any particularly dangerous chances through the first half of the period. Instead, they traded possessions and kept the game moving with relatively few stoppages. For a while, it looked like the first period would cruise along quickly to the first intermission.
That changed in the second half of the period. With a little under seven minutes left, Jonathan Drouin created the first big chance on the rush. He fired a shot off Andrei Vasilevskiy that created an enticing rebound for Jeff Petry. The Habs defender got off a good shot but Vasy made the save. After that play, the game went from being fast paced with relatively few chances to fast paced with tons of chances.
Montreal got the next big one a minute later as Joel Armia fired a shot off Vasilevskiy on the rush, gathered his own rebound, and continued to skate around the net for a wrap around chance. It looked like he might score but Yanni Gourde reached in with a slash to disrupt the play. Jesperi Kotkaniemi collected the puck and tried to jam it past Vasilevskiy but couldn’t find space.
With Gourde in the box, the teams continued to trade chances. The Lightning got the first big one as Ondrej Palat skated away on a shorthanded break. He fired a good shot but it deflected off the crossbar and back into the boards. Shortly thereafter, Montreal opened the scoring as Petry buried a one timer from above the left circle on a pass from Max Domi. Tomas Tatar provided a bit of screen in front of the net but mostly, the shot beat Vasy clean.
Back at even strength, the Lightning started to push back on a game that had become one sided in favor of the Canadiens. Victor Hedman nearly tied the game on a pretty play off a regroup as he attacked down the seam and went forehand backhand to open up the net but couldn’t quite finish the move as the puck slid off his stick.
With under two minutes left, the Bolts turned into the juggernaut we remember from their best moments last season. They pinned Montreal in their own zone so thoroughly that they made three full line changes. The pressure started with the second line, then the third line came on and kept the puck in the zone, and then, with under 30 seconds, the first line came on and scored the game tying goal.
Steven Stamkos set up Braydon Coburn, yes Braydon Coburn, for a bomb from the high slot. The shot appeared to deflect off a Montreal stick, possibly Drouin’s, and ended up over Price’s shoulder in the back of the net.
At the end of the first period, the game was tied 1-1. The Lightning led in shots but trailed by a small margin in expected goals
In many ways, the second period was a continuation of the end of the first in that the Lightning looked much like they did last season. They put together a short stretch of dominant hockey where they scored multiple goals in a flurry and then ceded the ice relying on their goaltender to make big saves to keep the lead.
The Bolts started to the period fast with a decent chance for Nikita Kucherov. Just 30 seconds into the period, the early pressure led to Brett Kulak taking a holding penalty on Steven Stamkos.
Montreal got the first good chance on the power play as Artturi Lehkonen received a pass on a 2 on 1 and rifled one off the post. The Lightning responded immediately with a vintage bomb from the left circle. This sequence was eerily similar to the Habs goal in the first period when Palat’s shorthanded rush chance hit the crossbar and immediately came back the other way ending on the Petry one timer.
The Lightning continued to pour on the offense at even strength leading to a goal for Tyler Johnson. While both teams were changing, Ryan McDonagh hit Palat with a stretch pass. Palat skated in and slid a pass to Johnson who buried the shot in classic triplets fashion.
The Habs responded generating a chance for Max Domi a little over eight minutes into the period, which was the first time they threatened in the second. The Lightning weren’t quite done with their flurry though as they nearly scored again. Brayden Point slid a pass toward a wide open Stamkos camped out at the back post. He almost certainly would have scored had Kulak not reached out and deflected the puck.
Less than a minute later, the ice started to tilt back toward the Habs beginning with a roughing penalty on Victor Hedman who appeared to be responding to a hip check on Kucherov during the previous shift. Once again, the Lightning created a shorthanded chance early in the power play. This time, Mathieu Joseph skated in cleanly on Price but couldn’t finish. But unlike the first power play, the Lightning managed to kill the penalty.
That didn’t stop the Montreal though as they continued to apply pressure and drew another penalty less than two minutes later. Sergachev went off for holding after Montreal created multiple chances including some chaos around the net.
In the final minute of the power play, the Habs generated another flurry similar to the one that created the penalty. It looked like they were about to score as Nick Suzuki positioned himself to finish a rebound into a wide open net. But at the last second, Anthony Cirelli swiped the puck out of the slot negating the chance and helping the Lightning kill off the second penalty of the period. Through the final five minutes or so, Montreal continued to control the game.
At the end of the second period, the Lightning held a 3-1 lead but trailed in both shots and expected goals.
The last 20 minutes were similar to the previous 10. Montreal continued to control the game with the Lightning bending but not breaking thanks mostly to Vasilevskiy. The Habs started fast with two intense flurries around the net in the first two minutes. Both attacks resulted in multiple shots in tight on the Lightning net but neither ended in a goal.
A little under five minutes into the period, the Lightning took another penalty. This time, Kucherov went to the box for slashing Max Domi. Contrary to previous power plays in this game, neither team threatened to score. In fact, the Lightning defense looked better during this shorthanded stretch than they did in the early parts of the period at 5 on 5.
About halfway through the period, Domi created more havoc by getting loose on a breakaway. But Mikhail Sergachev saved the day getting back and checking Domi off the puck cleanly. For a player who has struggled defensively at times in his young career, this was an impressive play by Sergachev to use his size to bully Domi and erase what looked certain to be a golden scoring chance.
With just over six minutes left, Kevin Shattenkirk made things interesting again taking a delay of game penalty putting the Lightning shorthanded once more. But again, they were up to the task limiting Montreal’s chances. The Bolts penalty kill looked much better in the the third period than it did in the first two.
Over the rest of the game, Tampa’s defense tightened and the Canadiens never really threatened again. Even with over two minutes of 6v5 time, the Lightning did well to neutralize Montreal’s offense and protect the lead on the way to victory.
At the end of the game, the Lightning trailed in shots and expected goals but won 3-1.
The Bolts have been up and down recently. Down against the Canes, up against the Leafs, down against the Senators, and maybe not up against the Habs but definitely better than against the Sens. For those looking for a big statement game, this wasn’t it. The Lightning didn’t dominate play. But they did play well and lock down the game once they got the lead.
Andrei Vasilevskiy was the biggest star for the Lightning ensuring that the three goals at the end of the first period and the beginning of the second were enough to leave Montreal with both points.
The Bolts will return to the ice for the final game of this long early season road trip on Thursday in Boston against the Bruins.