The Canadiens are still alive in the Stanley Cup playoffs. They beat the Lightning 3-2 in overtime at a delirious Bell Centre on Monday to send their series in the final round back to Tampa for Game 5 on Wednesday.
Josh Anderson scored 3 minutes, 53 seconds into sudden death, his second goal of the night, to win it. Anderson was sprawling as he fired a puck past Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. The goals were Anderson’s fourth and fifth in 21 games this postseason. “It was obviously a big moment,” Anderson said. He was acquired by Montreal in the offseason from Columbus. “I wasn’t sure if it went in at first. I just looked at the referee’s hand.
“We didn’t want [the series] to end tonight in front of our fans. I am ready to go to Tampa for the next game. We just have to go there and take care of business and come back home. If a sixth game is necessary it would be played in Montreal on Friday night.
Only one team in NHL history – the 1942 Maple Leafs – has overcome a 3-0 deficit to win the Stanley Cup. To do that, the Canadiens would have to string together four straight victories. It has done that once already in the 2021 postseason, but it is a tall task against the defending Stanley Cup champion.
Carey Price had 32 saves in by far his best performance of the final round. He entered Game 4 with a 4.39 goals-against average and an .835 save percentage in the series and had been badly outplayed by Vasilevskiy.
It didn’t happen this time. Vasilevskiy stopped 18 shots in the loss.
“He’s got experience and he is a competitor,” Dominique Ducharme, Montreal’s interim head coach, said. “He answered the bell tonight.”
Montreal killed off a four-minute penalty that spanned the final 1:01 of the third period and the first 2:59 of overtime. In the defeat, Tampa Bay failed to score on five power plays.
During the intermission between the third period and sudden death, the Canadiens talked over the situation in their dressing room. The Lightning has one of the NHL’s best power plays, but there was no panic in the home team’s quarters.
Montreal’s penalty-killing unit entered the contest having allowed only five goals in 53 chances during the postseason.
Phillip Danault, the Habs centre, described the resolve this way: “We approached it a little bit like we did the game: Backs against the wall, and wind in our face. It was the biggest penalty kill of all.”
A moment of silence was held before the game in memory of Columbus goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks, who died Sunday when he was struck in the chest by fireworks in Michigan. The 24-year-old Kivlenieks joined the Blue Jackets organization in May 2017 after he signed as a free agent. In eight career games in the NHL, he went 2-2-2 with a 3.09 goals-against average and a .899 save percentage.
After the national anthems were played, the crowd of 3,500 inside the building cheered wildly when Montreal greats Yvon Cournoyer, Guy Lafleur and Patrick Roy were introduced.
Montreal had not held a lead in the series and started slowly yet again. The Canadiens spent much of the first half of the opening period in their own end. Price was tested early and often and had his best 20 minutes of the final round.
“I think we were overthinking it a bit,” Ducharme said. “It took us a little time to settle in. [Price] was solid and he gave us the time.”
The Canadiens didn’t get their first shot on Tampa Bay’s net until midway through the period. On their second, Anderson flipped a puck over Vasilevskiy’s glove to put the Canadiens ahead 1-0 with 4:21 left in the first period. Nick Suzuki set up the goal with a beautiful cross-crease pass. Cole Caufield also was awarded an assist.
Playing confidently with the lead, Montreal began to exert its presence more physically. Alex Romanov sent Kucherov flying, Shea Weber decked Brayden Point.
Point, who leads all players with 14 goals during the playoffs, barely missed when he hit a post on the power play. He didn’t have much luck – he hit a post in the opening period as well.
Tampa Bay went 0 for 4 on power plays over the first 40 minutes. Just after it failed on the fourth, Barclay Goodrow tied the game 1-1 when he netted a wrist shot with 2:40 left before the intermission. Ryan McDonagh shovelled a perfect pass to Goodrow to garner the assist on the play.
When the horn sounded to signal the clock had run out, Danault and Ondrej Palat of the Lightning got into a shoving match. A similar fracas occurred at the end of the first period.
The Canadiens took their second lead of the game – and the series – when Romanov, a rookie defenceman, squeezed a long wrist shot through Vasilevskiy with 11:12 remaining in the third. It was the first playoff goal of the 21-year-old’s career. He had one goal during the regular season in 54 games.
Romanov was inserted into the lineup along with Brett Kulak to make up the third defensive pairing. They replaced Jon Merrill and Erik Gustafsson.
After losing three straight games, the Canadiens shuffled their lines in hope that it would provide better results. The biggest change was to scratch centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi and move forward Jake Evans to centre on the third line between Artturi Lehkonen and Paul Byron. Evans assisted on Romanov’s goal.
Montreal entered the game 11-2 when it scores first during the playoffs but until Game 4 had never done it in the final round.
Patrick Maroon tied the game at 2-2 with 6:12 remaining. Maroon scored following a nice pass from Matthieu Joseph. Maroon is attempting to become the first player in league history to win the Stanley Cup in three straight seasons with two different teams. He won in 2019 with the St. Louis Blues and with the Lightning last year.
Montreal entered Monday with a 5-1 record in overtime, while Tampa Bay was just 0-2.
After Price turned away shots from Palat, Victor Hedman and Point, the Canadiens struck again.
“We believe in each other,” Anderson said. “We were all positive in the dressing room before the overtime. Everyone stuck together and did their jobs tonight.”
Caufield had two assists, the second coming on the game-winner. Defenceman Ben Chiarot had nine hits and blocked three shots. Shea Weber had five blocks, four hits and three take-aways.
With that, Montreal is not done yet. This is the first time it has reached the Stanley Cup final in 28 years. It would have been extraordinarily painful to be swept.
It is a longshot, but it’s still a shot.
“For me, for us to win was not a surprise,” Ducharme said. “We have been through a lot this season and talked about it. This was just another challenge. We weren’t perfect but we played better, and we will play better than that in Tampa.
“We won’t go easily, that’s for sure.”