In his first appearance in Tampa as a head coach Marty St. Louis watched his Montreal Canadiens team take it to, and eventually beat, the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-4, in a shootout on Saturday night. Nick Suzuki scored the lone goal in the shootout on a nice backhand move to provide the winning margin.
Despite numerous gaffes and turnovers the Lightning had a first period lead thanks to goals by Steven Stamkos and Anthony Cirelli. They also had a two-goal lead in the second period compliments of a Nikita Kucherov power play goal and a lead going into the third period due to a Brayden Point goal at the end of the second.
Montreal just wouldn’t go away as they turned odd-man rushes into goals and uses their speed to cause havoc for the Lightning defense. Cole Caufield, Corey Schueneman, Josh Anderson, and Jesse Ylonen had the regulation goals for the Canadiens. Jake Allen stopped 37 of 41 for the Habs while Brian Elliott stopped 27 of 31 for the Lightning.
The Lightning basically started the game shorthanded as Alex Killorn was taking a seat in the penalty box before many of the fans had settled in the chairs they had paid for. There wasn’t much positive action for the Canadiens with the extra skater as they failed to register a shot on goal, but it did seem to set the table for much of the period. Simply put, Montreal was the better team for the first 20 minutes of play.
It was the road team that was using their speed to set up their offense and pressure Brian Elliott. However, the veteran netminder turned aside chance after chance as Montreal racked up the early shot advantage. Nick Suzuki and his linemates were noticeably troublesome, entering the zone with ease and creating unease among the Amalie faithful.
Still, this is the Tampa Bay Lightning and despite giving up plenty of shots, they were the first on the scoreboard. There wasn’t much to the play, just good puck possession and a nifty pass by Nikita Kucherov to Steven Stamkos all alone in front. Why was he all alone? Because he used the old Randy Moss push-off to create a little separation and deflected the puck home.
"Shoots. SCORE. TIPPED IN BY STAMKOS" @TBLightning— Lightning Radio (@BoltsRadio) April 2, 2022
The captain scores again, as called by @DaveMishkin and @PhilEspo7
Listen: https://t.co/JaUzaTshKr, @WFLANews or Lightning Radio Network pic.twitter.com/Z1iyiXvHgh
Montreal kept the pressure on and when they went back on the power play, things were quite tense for a moment. However, Nick Paul corralled the puck in his own zone, bumped a pass to himself and then backhanded a pass to the crease that found a crashing Anthony Cirelli. The puck and Cirelli ended up in the net, luckily for the Lightning the puck went first. After a challenge from Montreal, the goal was upheld and the Lightning had a 2-0 lead despite having only 4 shots on net.
They may have had a 2-0 lead at the end of the period, but it wasn’t twenty minutes that Coach Cooper and his staff will be happy with. For a team that preaches process over outcome, their process wasn’t worthy of the outcome after one period. The difference:
Brian Elliott’s been in the lab with Vasilevskiy pic.twitter.com/Tyc8yNVT95— Andrew Weiss (@WeissHockeyTalk) April 2, 2022
The second period started much like the first with Paul Byron getting an early chance on Elliott that was denied by the goaltender. For all of the skating Montreal was doing, though, the Lightning did a better job of keeping the pressure to the perimeter and allowing their goalie to see the puck.
Offensively, there wasn’t much before the first T.V. timeout for the home squad, but they did have a few shifts where they kept the puck at the Montreal end of the ice. A lucky bounce found Nikita Kucherov all alone on a breakaway, but his shot whistled wide of the cage.
A bad drop pass caught the entire five-man unit of the Lightning in the offensive zone and the Canadiens broke the other way with a two-on-zero. As good as Elliott had been all night long, he wasn’t stopping that rush. Cole Caufield finished the rush off to make it 2-1.
Cole Caufield finishes off the 2-on-0 with an absolute roof job on Brian Elliott pic.twitter.com/ZDQp2dru1S— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 3, 2022
The Lightning quickly restored the two-goal lead. With Jordan Harris in the penalty box for playing without his helmet (cut him a break, it was his NHL debut) the first unit of the power play put on an absolute clinic. Montreal was wary of shots coming from Stamkos, who ripped a few on Allen, and Victor Hedman, who casually strolled down the slot with the puck, and that left Kucherov all alone. He fired a one-timer on net that Allen had no chance of stopping.
Earlier in the season, surrendering a goal so quickly after scoring one may have sent Montreal into a bit of a tailspin, but under Marty St. Louis this team seems a lot more resilient. Just a few minutes after the Kucherov goal the Habs took advantage of back-to-back icings by the Bolts and a clean face-off win to narrow the score to 3-2. Corey Schuenman flicked a long wrister from the point that Elliott never saw until it was in the net.
Corey Schueneman gets a helpful deflection on the way to the net as he cuts the Tampa lead to one goal. pic.twitter.com/vxDJH8mHdJ— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 3, 2022
The Canadiens had definitely studied the film prior to this game. Multiple times in the game they were ready for the Lightning’s tendency to drop passes back once they entered the zone. This time it was Stamkos who saw his pass picked off and sent the other way on another odd-man rush. Josh Anderson tied the game with a shot that beat Elliott cleanly.
Josh Anderson buries it five hole on the breakaway and we are tied in Tampa! pic.twitter.com/FcRqpWS0OU— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 3, 2022
After a long stretch of games of not being able to buy a goal on the power play, it was the special teams that bailed the Lightning out again. The top unit had a little different look with Ondrej Palat taking Steven Stamkos’ spot, but the result was the same. Palat fed the puck to the slot and Brayden Point chipped it home to restore the lead.
“On the rush. Again” So said Brian Engblom as Jesse Ylonen tied the game early in the third period. Sure enough, it was Montreal with numbers and attacking with speed that led to the game-tying goal.
Beautiful passing play between Tyler Pitlick and Ryan Poehling, and a great finish by Jesse Ylönen! pic.twitter.com/9FrgPJjEU6— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 3, 2022
Despite the early goal (or maybe because of it) the Lightning actually put together their best period of the night in the third. They didn’t score, but they did possess the puck a little more. If they had managed to knock it off with the turnovers, they probably wouldn’t have had to go into bonus hockey, but they did. The eliminated the high-danger chances for Montreal and out attempted them 12-8.
Overtime was fun and chaotic, kind of like in the old times. Defense was secondary to pushing the puck forward for chances, but no one managed to find the back of the net. Nick Paul and Brayden Point had good looks at the net, but couldn’t get quality shots off. To the skills competition they went.
Brayden Point - Saved
Cole Caufield - Saved
Nikita Kucherov - Wide
Rem Pitlick - Poke Check!
Steven Stamkos - Saved
Nick Suzuki - Goal
That’s it, Montreal wins, 5-4.