On March 30, the Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning faced off for the fifth time this season. The two Atlantic division foes have been battling for the top spot in the division all year. Montreal entered the game with 102 points, holding a three-point lead over Tampa Bay, with both teams having played 76 games.
The Canadiens have had a phenomenal season this year and currently have the most points in the entire Eastern Conference. The team has been led by All-Star goaltender Carey Price. Price has been a top goalie in the league for years, but this year he has elevated his game to another level. He leads the league in goals against average (1.92) and save percentage (.936) and is garnering a lot of support to win not only the Vezina Trophy for top goalie but also the Hart Trophy for league MVP, which hasn’t been won by a goalie since 2002.
The Lightning entered the game leading the NHL in scoring, recording 3.2 goals per game. Their potent attack begins with star center Steven Stamkos, who is currently second in the NHL with 40 goals. The team has three other players with over 20 goals (Nikita Kucherov with 28, Tyler Johnson with 26 and Ryan Callahan with 22) and seven more players who have scored in double digits this season. While everyone thinks of Stamkos when thinking about the Lightning offense, it is clear that this is one of the deepest and most talented groups in the league.
Despite playing at the Bell Center in Montreal, the home ice did not prove to be advantageous for the Canadiens, who lost 5-3 as the Lightning offense was too much for Carey Price and the Canadiens defense. With 18:36 left in the second period, Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos passed the puck to a wide open Vladislav Namestnikov who went in on a breakaway, pushing the puck to his forehand and shooting it past Price, making the score 1-0 in favor of the Floridians. The second goal of the game was scored by Montreal with 15:34 to go in the second period. Despite killing a penalty, Canadiens players Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty stormed down the ice on a two-on-one. As the defender began to play him more heavily Plekanec passed the puck to Pacioretty who took a one-timer, shooting the puck over Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop’s right shoulder, making it a 1-1 game.
Only 30 seconds later, the Lightning’s Jonathan Drouin responded with a breakaway goal on the power play, shifting the puck from his backhand to his forehand, ultimately placing it right past the goalie’s blocker and resulting in a score of 2-1. With a little less than two minutes left in the second period, Tampa widened their lead even further. Causing a turnover in the Canadiens’ defensive end and creating a three on one, Tampa scored yet another goal, making it 3-1 going into the last intermission of the game.
However, only twenty-three seconds into the third period the Canadiens responded by putting one past the Tampa goalie making it 3-2. Receiving the puck on the blue line off of an offensive zone faceoff, Jeff Petry took a quick wrist shot, lifting the puck just over the opposing goalie’s glove. Six minutes later, the Lightning scored yet again. Namestnikov skated the puck around the Canadiens’ defensemen, went in on the goalie and scored for the second time of the night, only furthering the Bolts’ lead.
With a little over three minutes left, Montreal fans were given a glimpse of hope when defenseman P.K. Subban received a pass from Nathan Beaulieu, scoring a one-timer power play goal and giving his team a better chance at grabbing the win. However, despite pulling their goalie, the Canadiens could not stop Tampa. Scoring with 56.7 seconds left in the game, Anton Stralman took advantage of the empty net, resulting in a final score of 5-3 Tampa Bay. I guess the weather isn’t the only reason to move to Florida.
With the win, Tampa Bay moved within one point of Montreal. The Canadiens currently hold the top spot in both the division and the Eastern Conference, with the Lightning and the New York Rangers each trailing by only a point. It looks as though the race for the number one seed in the East is going to come down to the wire.
The Montreal Canadiens return to the ice on Thursday, April 2, at 7:30 p.m. when they face off against the Washington Capitals. The Lightning head north to Toronto on Tuesday, March 31, to play the Maple Leafs at 7:30 p.m. With playoffs coming up soon, these teams need to capitalize on every opportunity down the stretch.