The Tampa Bay Lightning lost 4-2 on the road to the Montreal Canadiens. The Bolts were on the second half of a back to back with travel and it showed. They barely put up any resistance. Normally, it would be easy to write off a game like this but Eddie Pasquale made only his second career start tonight and the AHL veteran put on the performance of his life. Unfortunately, the skaters weren’t able to do anything to support him and he never really had a chance.
Anton Stralman returned to the lineup for Tampa playing on the second pair with Mikhail Sergachev as Victor Hedman remained out with an injury, The Montreal win combined with a Columbus loss puts the two teams back into a tie for the final wild card spot.
The Lightning started the game well. They got a strong shift by the Brayden Point line in the first couple minutes. He, Nikita Kucherov, and Yanni Gourde kept the puck in the zone for an extended stretch and put pressure on the Habs defense.
That shift led to the first goal of the game. After a partial change, Steven Stamkos joined the attack. He recovered the puck in the corner and flung it back toward the slot attempting to find someone open for a shot. Instead, it deflected off of Max Domi and went past Carey Price into the back of the net.
After the goal, the wheels fell off for the Lightning. “Fell off” is maybe too kind. They exploded and the whole vehicle caught on fire and skidded in flames into a ditch full of sewage. I’m normally not one to overreact, especially in a meaningless game, but this was one of the poorer performances of the season.
It started with Eddie Pasquale making a tough save on a deflected puck in the slot. And it only got harder for him from there. Montreal really started to pour on the pressure eight minutes into the period. They started creating scrums around the net and Brendan Gallagher had multiple chances to get in a series of hacks in the crease.
The pressure eventually led to Mikhail Sergachev taking an interference penalty on Tomas Tatar out of frustration. The Habs kept the puck 6 on 5 for nearly a full minute firing multiple shots and recovering the puck each time to reset.
The 4 on 5 penalty kill was better than the 5 on 6 allowing several shots but none of them particularly dangerous. Pasquale continued to do his job holding the game scoreless.
After the penalty, the Lightning failed to push back at all allowing Montreal to continue to pour it on. That led to the tying goal. It started with a fluky bounce as the puck hit the official along the boards keeping it in the zone. Then, a pass from behind the net deflected off a Lightning player directly to Nate Thomspon in the slot who roofed it past Pasquale before he could get set.
At the time of the goal, Tampa was getting outshot 13-2. And it didn’t get better after the goal. Brendan Gallagher got two different rush chances. One required a flashy glove save from Pasquale and the other a series of difficult saves in traffic.
In between those chances, the Lightning generated their only offense of the period after the goal on a rush with Point and Kucherov. Point fed a pass across to Kuch but it was too hot to handle and skidded away into the boards harmlessly.
Before the end of the period, the Bolts gave up another breakaway. This time to Paul Byron. And again, Pasquale came up huge keeping the game tied.
After 20 minutes, the Habs had a huge lead in shots and expected goals.
The second period was more of the same from the first. Again, the Lightning skaters were boat raced by the Habs. Again, Eddie Pasquale was only think keeping the game close. If you told me the Lightning would give up 35 shots on goal in the first 40 minutes, I’d have called it a loss and moved on. But to Pasquale’s credit, it wasn’t a loss...yet.
Twenty seconds into the period, Tampa let Gallagher get free with only one defender back for a rush chance immediately dispelling any notion that they’d be any better in the second period. Pasquale made a second big save in the opening minutes on Andrew Shaw after a cross ice pass from Shea Weber.
The best line for the Lightning in the second period was the fourth. They got their first good shift three minutes into the period doing some good work in the offensive zone. After another dangerous chance for Tatar, the fourth line scored on their next shift. Adam Erne hit Cedric Paquette with a perfect pass and the center deflected into the net.
The goal only momentarily flipped the momentum. The Habs responded with another 2 on 1 rush. This time, Paul Byron got loose but the speedster fired the puck over the net. Point got a similar rush chance for the Lightning and produced an identical result missing the net.
The Habs tied the game on a similarly fluky goal to the one they scored in the first. Pasquale was saving everything he had a clean look at but Joel Armia got free at the side of the net and fired a weird angle shot up into the roof of the net. He skated across the slot uncontested, got a shot on Pasquale, and then outworked Point and McDonagh to pick up the rebound and get the second chance.
Montreal continued to pour on the pressure with a huge shift with seven minutes left in the period. They created multiple chances and the Lightning could not clear the zone eventually leading to Point taking a holding penalty.
The power play was more of the same for Montreal. Lots of shots. Lots of Pasquale saving the day. At this point, it really started to get absurd.
The Lightning managed to generate one more chance after the penalty. Kucherov leaked out behind the play and looked like he might skate in clean on Price but Weber got puck and disrupted the shot.
After 40 minutes, the Habs were still in complete control in terms of shots and expected goals.
The third period continued exactly as the first two. It started with more pressure on Pasquale. And as he did all game, he stood up to it admirably. Jonathan Drouin failed to corral the puck at the side of the net and missed a chance to score.
The fourth line continued to be the best for the Lightning as Erne got a decent look but missed the net. The Habs responded with another chance for Gallagher. He received a pass wide open in the slot and fired a shot off the post.
The Point line did some good work for the Lightning generating a couple of chances. But traffic quickly went back the other way. On either side of a faceoff with 12:00 left, the Habs created flurries in front of the net.
The dam finally broke a couple minutes later with a go-ahead goal for Montreal. Victor Mete sent a wiffle shot toward the net and Artturi Lehkonen swatted it out of mid air so he could tap it into the net putting the Habs ahead for good. Fittingly, that shot put the shot on goal totals at 44-22 meaning Montreal had fully doubled Tampa in that stat to that point in the game.
The Lightning responded to the goal by immediately giving up a rush chance to Tatar and then a 3 on 1 rush that ended with Jan Rutta desperately breaking up a Drouin pass.
The Lightning put together a good couple minutes around the midway point of the period looking like the might get back in the game. JT Miller got the best look as the fourth line did the work again but he couldn’t beat Price.
That positive play was short lived though as the whole team broke down defensively following a center-ice faceoff allowing a comically open breakaway for Max Domi who iced the game.
The Lightning pulled Pasquale following matching minors with just over 2:30 left in the game. They looked dangerous during the 5 on 4 but couldn’t score and the game ended a 4-2 loss.
As they had all game, the Habs still led in shots and expected goals.
In context, it’s hard to know what to do with this game. The Lightning played badly. But they were also on the second half of a road back to back and had nothing to play for in terms of playoff seeding. The Habs were rested and had everything to play for,
But even so, it’d have been nice to see the team show better in front of Pasquale who gave them every chance to steal a game they had no business winning.
Setting the all-time wins record is no longer a possibility for the Lightning. Wins over Toronto and Boston in the final two games would tie it but that’s the best they can do. And considering that all three teams have clinched their playoff positions and are likely to be playoff opponents, who knows what approach the coaches will take.
All in all, this was an ugly but meaningless loss. Eddie Pasquale deserved better and hopefully, he gained some confidence that will serve him will when he heads back to Syracuse for the playoffs.