When the Tampa Bay Lightning last took the ice, they played with fire on numerous occasions against the Toronto Maple Leafs, only to have Ben Bishop bail them out in a 3-0 win. On Thursday night against the Montreal Canadiens, the Lightning tried playing with fire again, only to get burned by a team that’s not in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Mike Condon stopped all 26 shots he faced and the Canadiens got goals from three different players, blanking the Lightning 3-0 at Amalie Arena and picking up their first shutout since October 20th. Tampa Bay is now 3-2-0 on their six-game homestand, and came out tonight with a listless effort that lacked cohesion, structure, or anything resembling hockey you’d expect to see near the end of the regular season. The turnovers were numerous, their neutral zone play poor, and they spent some long stretches stuck in their own end. What made it even worse was the fact that the Lightning went into the third period trailing 2-0, not an insurmountable deficit, and only registered three shots on goal in the final period. Head coach Jon Cooper lamented his team’s effort in the final 20 minutes after doing some good things in the second period.
“We did some good things in the second period, Pally gets a penalty shot, Kuch has a breakaway. We had some really good looks, the guy (Condon) made saves,” Cooper said. “Three shots on goal in the third period. That just can’t happen.”
Both teams began the opening minutes of the game trading a couple of excellent scoring chances, as Nikita Kucherov, who was making his return to the lineup, sent a beautiful slap pass to Alex Killorn at the side of the net. Killorn was able to redirect the puck on net, but it hit the post. During Montreal’s first power play of the night, courtesy of a questionable hooking penalty on Tyler Johnson where his stick appeared to be chicken winged by David Desharnais, Lars Eller was denied by Lightning goalie Ben Bishop on an excellent opportunity. Nathan Beaulieu sent a crisp pass into the right circle that was one-timed on net by Eller. However, Bishop flashed the glove and made a tremendous save that kept the game scoreless. The line of Ryan Callahan (who was also making his return), Valtteri Filppula, and Cedric Paquette then went to work, proving to be the Lightning’s best in the opening period and creating a few solid scoring chances. Eventually, the Canadiens tilted the ice back in their favor, forcing a turnover that forced Bishop to make a couple of saves in quick succession. Following a faceoff win, the Habs got another couple of quick shots that led to rebound chances. Desharnais picked up his 10th goal of the season off the second rebound in front of Bishop, giving Montreal a 1-0 lead, as Sven Andrighetto and Alexei Emelin got the assists. Faceoffs and turnovers continued to be a bit of a problem for Tampa Bay, as even Victor Hedman had a rare giveaway that resulted in some extended time for the Canadiens in the Lightning zone. Tampa Bay earned a late power play chance on a hooking penalty by Greg Pateryn, as Slater Koekkoek started a rush with an excellent outlet pass to Ondrej Palat that led to a chance that resulted in the power play. However, they were unable to capitalize, going into the first intermission down 1-0 despite outshooting the Habs 14-12.
It didn’t take long for the Canadiens to build upon their lead, as Torrey Mitchell blew past Andrej Sustr in the Lightning’s zone down the left wing, cut to the net, and beat Bishop for his 10th goal of the season just 52 seconds into the second period. Pateryn and Emelin earned the helpers, and the Habs would continue to pounce on Lightning turnovers and poor play in the neutral zone and the Tampa Bay zone throughout the middle period. Tomas Plekanec nearly gave the Habs a 3-0 lead on a breakaway, but Bishop was up to the task in making the save. Jonathan Marchessault got into the first fight of his NHL career, dropping the gloves with Montreal’s Darren Dietz in a spirited scrap, but it wasn’t enough to completely shift momentum. Valtteri Filppula had a turnover in Montreal’s zone on a pass that went to nobody in particular, which was just another example of the team’s sloppiness in this period. Moments after Steven Stamkos cut to the net and put a shot on net that Condon stopped, Ondrej Palat then found himself on a partial breakaway, as he split two defenders and was hooked from behind as he cut to the net and had his shot denied by Condon. It looked like there was going to be a power play for the Lightning, but the officials awarded Palat a penalty shot at the 8:52 mark. With a perfect chance to get back into this game, Palat tried to go stick side on Condon but didn’t get the shot high enough into the air, as Condon turned it aside with his right pad. The Lightning’s cohesiveness left a lot to be desired, as more turnovers and poor play with and without the puck in the neutral zone and their own end continued to plague them, most notably when Koekkoek had a pass intercepted at his own blue line, leading to a big chance that Montreal fired just wide of the net. Another late power play saw the Bolts get one last opportunity before the period ended, as Stamkos carried the puck down the right wing into the Habs’ zone and feathered a pass to Kucherov, who ended up with a partial breakaway. Unfortunately for the Lightning, Condon made another save, as they went into the intermission trailing 2-0. Shots were 23-18 in favor of Tampa Bay at this point.
Early in the third period, Stamkos made a gorgeous toe drag move by two defenders and had an open look at the net, but decided to make one more move to get the Canadiens’ goaltender out of position. It ended up being a mistake, as Condon pounced on the puck and knocked it away before Stamkos could find the back of the net, preserving Montreal’s 2-0 lead. The good things that the Lightning were able to take away from the second period, such as Palat drawing the penalty shot and Kucherov getting the breakaway, evaporated into a lackluster third period that really only saw one more really good scoring chance for the Bolts, as Hedman fired a shot from the point on a power play that appeared to go off the post. Near the end of that power play, the Lightning pulled Bishop for an extra attacker with about 2:40 left, and unfortunately for them, it backfired immediately. Phillip Danault put the game away with an empty-net goal with 2:28 left, giving him his fourth of the season and putting this game out of reach. Stamkos didn’t mince words after the game.
“We had too many passengers tonight. We’re at the part of the season where that can’t happen. That’s unacceptable,” said Stamkos. “I don’t care who we’re playing, we’re playing the best team in the league, we’re playing the worst team in the league, this is almost ‘go time’ with the playoffs here. Just not a good enough effort consistently all around. We need a lot better than that. It can’t be in spurts, it has to be consistent.”
With the loss, the Lightning fell back to second place in the Atlantic Division, as their loss combined with the Florida Panthers’ 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils, puts them two points behind Florida as each team has five games remaining. Tampa Bay will close out their homestand on Saturday against the Devils, with the opening faceoff set for 7 pm.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Mike Condon – Made 26 saves, including a second period stop on Ondrej Palat’s penalty shot, giving Montreal their first shutout victory since October 20th
2nd Star: Alexi Emelin – Tallied two assists and finished plus-3 in 29:17 of ice time.
3rd Star: David Deharnais – Gave Montreal the lead in the first period with his 10th goal of the season. Centering a line with Sven Andrighetto and Phillip Danault, that trio was the Canadiens’ best for much of this contest.
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