The Canadiens played outstanding on offence and better on defence but still came up short against the Lightning in the Stanley Cup finals on Wednesday at Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa.
Tampa Bay got goals from Anthony Cirelli, Blake Coleman and Ondrej Palat and brilliant goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy in a 3-1 victory to take control of the best-of-seven series.
The defending champions head to Montreal for Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Sunday. Teams that win the first two meetings during the final have gone on to win 46 of 51 times. This is the first time Montreal has fallen behind in a series 2-0 during its postseason run.
Vasilevskiy won the goalie duel with Carey Price for the second time in a row. The big Russian withstood a barrage of 43 shots and only let in one by Nick Suzuki. Price, who allowed five goals on 26 shots in the opening game on Monday, gave up three on 23 attempts.
“I thought we played a heck of a hockey game tonight,” Corey Perry, Montreal’s 36-year-old winger, said. “At the same time, it wasn’t enough. We just have to find another gear.
“The playoffs are so close. It comes down to a bounce here or there or a timely goal. The difference between teams is minimal.”
It looked like the Canadiens would head into the dressing room with the score tied 1-1 after 40 minutes. Instead, Coleman scored a spectacular goal, his first in 19 games. The Tampa Bay centre was falling to the ice when he swiped the puck past Price only two seconds before the teams headed for their dressing rooms.
“It is definitely something you don’t want to do,” Shea Weber, Montreal’s captain, said. “You don’t want to give up a goal in the first or last minute of a period.
“Overall I think we played a pretty solid game all around. We made a few mistakes that cost us. I think we deserved a little better. They are a very opportunistic team.”
The Canadiens entered the game 11-2 during the playoffs when they have scored first and felt it was critical to get a good start on Wednesday. They did that, outshooting the Lightning 13-6 over the first 20 minutes.
Vasilevskiy, who faced only 19 shots in the first game, stopped a backhand on a rush by Suzuki from nine feet away a little more than two minutes after the puck drop, and a wrist shot from close in by Tyler Toffoli later on during a 2 on 1.
The Canadiens were controlling the play when Cirelli directed what looked like a harmless shot at the net from 59 feet away with 13:20 left in the second period. The puck squeezed through several bodies and eluded Price. Suddenly, Tampa Bay had a 1-0 lead.
A roughing penalty on Mikhail Sergachev gave Montreal a man advantage with 9:57 remaining in the second period. Thirty-three seconds later Suzuki beat Vasilevskiy with a backhand that went through his legs. At that point, Montreal had 23 shots to the Lightning’s eight.
Suzuki, a 21-year-old centre, was held without a shot in Monday’s first game. He was easily the best skater on the ice on Wednesday. He had nine shots, two hits, one take-away and went 6-4 in the faceoff circle.
He was happy the Canadiens played better, but disappointed as well.
“I thought we had a good bounce-back game,” Suzuki said. “We had a lot of good chances. We have to find a way to put the puck in the net, myself included.”
Palat scored unassisted with 4:18 left to put the game out of reach.
Price was sharper than he was on Monday. He stopped Kucherov, who leads all scorers during the playoffs with 30 points, on three shots in the first period alone.
Tampa Bay failed to score on two power plays in the first, and Montreal missed a golden opportunity when Sergachev was sent to the box for four minutes spanning the end of the first and start of the second. Canadiens centre Phillip Danault was the victim and went to the bench with blood running out of his nose.
The first game between them was a fast, hard-hitting affair. It was really the first time this postseason that an opposing team outworked the Canadiens and matched their bruising style of play.
Brendan Gallagher’s face is covered with gashes and red marks and welts as the result of his team’s deep run in the postseason. On Monday night he skated off in the third period with blood dripping from his forehead after he was thrown face-first to the ice by Sergachev. Gallagher said Tuesday that he was evaluated for a concussion both at the time of the incident and again the following morning and was cleared to play.
“I took a pretty good shot,” Gallagher said following the morning skate. “The ice is pretty hard, but I felt fine and am ready to move on.”
Gallagher is just 5 feet 9 and 183 pounds but in Game One took on the six-inch-taller and 30-pound-heavier Sergachev during a fracas in front of the Lightning’s net.
“He is that in-your-face guy who is not going to be stopped even after his face is cross-checked into the ice,” acting head coach Luke Richardson said. He has filled in behind the Montreal bench since the team’s interim head coach, Dominique Ducharme, tested positive for COVID-19 during the semi-final round. “The picture [afterward] looked vicious, but Brendan had a smile on his face and said he was okay. He definitely leads by example with the energy and the battle level that he has. The guys love that about him.”
The Canadiens had right wing Joel Armia back in the lineup after he was replaced by Jake Evans in Game 1. Armia was placed on the NHL COVID protocol list Sunday but was removed Monday and flew on Monday on a private jet to Tampa.
The Lightning was without forward Alex Killorn, who sustained an undisclosed injury in the series opener when he blocked a shot by Montreal defenceman Jeff Petry.
The Canadiens entered the night 11-2 when they have scored the first goal during the playoffs and 1-4 when the opposition gets on the board before them. Make that 1-5 now.
The series heads to Montreal now, where thousands of fans have been jamming the streets outside the Bell Centre. The Canadiens hoped to have more than 3,500 spectators in the rink on Friday but a request to do so was turned down on Wednesday by government officials in Quebec. The team wanted the limit imposed as a precaution against COVID-19 raised to 10,500.
That won’t happen, but they will welcome a return home and Ducharme’s return to the bench after a period of isolation. The better performance in Game Two also has them feeling more optimistic.
Perry spoke to his teammates in the dressing room following the defeat. He won a Stanley Cup while with the Anaheim Ducks.
“The message was to not stop doing what we have been doing throughout the playoffs,” Perry said. “You continue to do the things that got you here, and you have success.”