Coming into Game Three, the Montreal Canadiens probably would have been ecstatic if they had been told they would put three pucks past Andrei Vasilevskiy. After being held to just two goals in the opening two games, three goals in one game would be considered an offensive explosion. It was, just not as big as the one the Tampa Bay Lightning had. Tyler Johnson scored twice while Jan Rutta, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, and Blake Coleman also found the back of the net for the Bolts in their 6-3 victory.
With this win, the team is on the precipice of winning their second Stanley Cup in a row as they hold a three-games-to-zero edge in the series. Andrei Vasilevskiy made several key saves among his 32 saves, but did concede goals to Phillip Danault, Nick Suzuki, and Corey Perry.
Line matchups figured to be important in this game as the Habs were looking to contain the Lightning’s top line. However, Coach Cooper found ways to get the combinations he wanted and it led to the first goal. An icing by the Canadiens allowed him to get the Brayden Point line out against someone other than Danault and it resulted in a goal from....Jan Rutta? Yup, the erstwhile defenseman floated a shot on net for which Carey Price was screened by half of the people in the building and it found the top corner.
Jan Rutta (Ondrej Palat, Victor Hedman)
A little on their heels after the early goal, things got worse for Montreal when Eric Staal lifted the puck into the stands. That’s a penalty. The first power play of the game belonged to the Lightning and they didn’t waste time converting as the Habs gifted Victor Hedman the luxury of time and space. The Big Swede took what he was given and hammered a shot that Price couldn’t glove. He got most of it, but not enough as it trickled across the goal line.
Victor Hedman (Nikita Kucherov, Anthony Cirelli) Power Play
Down two goals less than four minutes into the game, Montreal needed a reset, so they burned their time out. Coming out of the pause there was a bad moment for the Lightning when Blake Coleman crashed awkwardly into the boards after Joel Edmondson sidestepped his attempted hit. Coleman was down on the ice for a bit before getting up and heading directly into the locker room. He would return after missing just one shift.
Another strong shift by the first line produced some opportunities but no goals, while Montreal responded with their best chance. Smol goals kid Cole Caulfield lasered a wrister off of the rush that beat Vasilevskiy but caught the right post solidly and ricocheted out of the zone to the collected groans of the partisan crowd.
Following the time out, Montreal picked up their game and started to push some action back into the Lightning zone. They are a fast team and transition play is important to them. It would lead to their first (non-deflected) goal of the series. Philip Danault brought the puck into the zone and with all of his passing options covered, just let the shot go. Like Caufield’s shot earlier it hit the post, unfortunately it took a Montreal bounce this time and went in the net behind Vasy.
Philip Danault (Shea Weber)
Philip Danault has his first goal of the playoffs pic.twitter.com/ZjIKzrKRBX— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) July 3, 2021
A late penalty on Mikhail Sergachev for tackling Artturi Lehkonen (credit for eliminating the threat before it materialized, but it’s still two minutes in the box) gave the Habs a power play in the final minutes. Vasilevskiy had to make a nice save on Josh Anderson after the big forward walked around Yanni Gourde, but that was the only solid chance for the Canadiens with the extra skater.
The second started with a reconstituted second line (hi Ross Colton) and a bad line change by the Canadiens. With the Point line back on the ice, a long pass from Erik Cernak found both Palat and Kucherov behind the defense. Palat corralled the puck and fed it to Kucherov who elevated a subtle little backhander under the bar and in. Sublime work...sublime.
Nikita Kucherov (Ondrej Palat, Erik Cernak)
Cernak with the stretch pass, Palat with a royal road pass, and Kucherov puts the Lightning ahead 3-1 pic.twitter.com/BvA3aKJC8B— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) July 3, 2021
The goal deflated the crowd and put the Canadiens on their heels. The reswizzled fourth line (hi Tyler Johnson) really took the gravy off the poutine when they struck quickly. Mathieu Joseph led the rush but his shot was stopped by Price. The rebound hit Joseph’s skate and deflected right to Johnson who was charging the net. All TJ had to do was chip it into the net and he did to make it 4-1.
Tyler Johnson (Mathieu Joseph, David Savard)
Unlike in the first period, the Lightning didn’t get complacent after scoring two early goals. They wanted more and almost got one when Kucherov tried to sneak a wraparound in on the short side. Carey Price made a stellar save to keep it out.
From there on it was a pretty ho-hum period. Montreal was struggling to maintain any possession and Tampa Bay was happy to keep them away from any dangerous areas and concentrate on clearing the zone. The crowd, so engaged early, was listless and the feeling that things were just being played out had settled in.
Then, with two minutes left, Nick Suzuki sparked a little life. He brought the puck down on the right side of the ice and had just enough of a step on Point to release a shot on net. Let’s be honest, Vasy should have made the save, but just didn’t keep his pad on the ice long enough and it slipped under.
Nick Suzuki (Jeff Petry, Cole Caulfield)
Nick Suzuki cuts the lead in half— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) July 3, 2021
7th goal of the playoffs pic.twitter.com/pJCrZg605C
Being up 4-2 after two on the road is pretty good (not as good as being up 4-1), but there were still 20 minutes to go and the Lighting couldn’t afford to go into a defensive shell.
The Bolts were pressing to re-establish their three-goal lead to begin the third, but the puck wasn’t cooperating. First it was Cirelli with a good look at the net, but the puck rolled off his stick. A few minutes later Pat Maroon had Price leaning the wrong way, but his shot hit the iron.
While they weren’t getting the breaks, they weren’t allowing Montreal to even have the opportunity to generate any luck, good or bad. The CIrelli and Johnson lines absolutely ground out back-to-back shifts in the Montreal zone, bleeding almost two minutes off of the clock by winning puck battles and keeping the puck in the zone. It wasn’t sexy hockey, but it was efficient.
As the period wound on, the Lightning kept their defensive shape and started to control the neutral zone. If Montreal did acquire the puck in their own zone, the Bolts would pinch along the boards and force the Canadiens to push the puck up the middle of the ice where a Lightning forward could step up and pick off the pass. That system led to the Lightning’s fifth goal.
A clearing attempt was knocked down by Tyler Johnson and he surged into the zone. He was denied on his first attempt, but followed it up with his second backhand goal of the game.
Tyler Johnson (unassisted)
Down by three with under five minutes to go Price headed to the bench and the Canadiens were desperate to salvage something. Something like an absolute snipe of a goal. Corey Perry slotted a perfect shot between Vasilevskiy’s skull and the post. Seriously, he could take this shot 100 times and it would go in probably 4 times.
Corey Perry (Brandon Gallagher, Ben Chiarot)
“These guys just don’t stop coming at you.” Pierre McGuire nailed it on the head as the Gourde line took the ice following the TV timeout. They forced a turnover in the neutral zone and Blake Coleman swatted it into the empty net to make it 6-3. Game, set, match.
Blake Coleman (Barclay Goodrow) Empty Net
The two teams were content to spend the final two minutes batting the puck around and the final horn sounded on the Lightning win. With two days off, Montreal is left to ponder what they can do to sway the tides while the Lightning have to maintain their focus in order to close it out.