With premium points up for grabs at such a crucial stage in the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning have to take as many points as possible away from teams closely chasing them in the Eastern Conference standings. For the third time in five days, they did just that.
Simon Gagne notched the game-tying goal for the second time in three games and Teddy Purcell also scored for the Lightning, who fell 3-2 in a shootout to the Montreal Canadiens Thursday night. Gagne also had the tying goal Saturday night at Florida, which sent the game into overtime before the Lightning fell 4-2, also in a shootout.
Thursday’s loss in the tiebreaker gave Tampa Bay 88 points, three ahead of Montreal and two behind Pittsburgh for the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Despite winning just two games in its last six, Tampa Bay has points in three straight and in five games during that stretch.
“We had to hold the blue line against a team like that,” Tampa Bay defenseman Pavel Kubina said of the Canadiens. “They can easily beat you if you give them time and space.”
Andrei Kostitsyn and Brian Gionta had goals for Montreal, who got the shootout winner from Mike Cammalleri, who beat Dwayne Roloson with a wrist shot through the five hole in the fourth round.
The win gives sixth-place Montreal 85 points, seven more than the seventh-place Rangers, whom the Canadiens play in New York on Friday.
Roloson finished the night with 27 saves. He has not allowed more than two goals in seven of his last nine games, despite matching the same total of wins and losses in that span.
It looked as if Montreal would be in for a long night from the start, as Roloson made a number of key stops through the first 20 minutes, including one on Cammalleri from the hash marks halfway through the first. He then batted a puck out of midair with his blocker to keep things scoreless with approximately five minutes to go in the opening frame.
The Lightning faced a scary moment late in the game when Roloson was hit high near the shoulder pad with a slap shot, after which he laid facedown on the ice for a moment before being tended to. He stayed in the game and proceeded to stop two of four Canadiens shooters in the tiebreaker, including Gionta and David Desharnais.
Tampa Bay had already played the better part of two periods without captain Vincent Lecavalier, who was sent off and handed a game-misconduct late in the first period following an altercation with Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban. Each player exchanged a series of slashes and cross-checks with 8.5 seconds to go in the opening period. It culminated in Subban giving a slash to Lecavalier as he was coming out in front of the Canadiens net – drawing a minor penalty – and with Lecavalier retaliating with a two-handed swing at Subban’s hip that earned him the ejection.
Whereas Lecavalier was in on the scoring in the team’s last game, a 6-2 win at Toronto on Monday, he, along with a number of others who tallied the score sheet in the club’s last outing, were left out of the scoring Thursday night at the Bell Centre.
“It’s crucial,” Lightning forward Dominic Moore said, regarding the importance of secondary scoring. “Obviously down the stretch and in the playoffs, every goal makes a difference and everyone has got to contribute.”
Purcell followed up with a two-assist performance against Toronto with the game’s opening goal on the power play. He found Martin St. Louis’ rebound out in front and wristed one past Carey Price that ricocheted off the inside of the far post and in at 0:35. The assist was St. Louis’ first of two on the night, which extended his points streak to six games.
“I was just trying to get to the front of the net to create a screen,” Purcell said. “Marty kind of faked the shot at first, then the puck was just laying there and I saw Price had left an open net, so I just put it five hole.”
Kostitsyn’s goal just 5:05 later tied it after he chipped in a pass from David Desharnais past Roloson to even things at one.
The Canadiens pulled ahead at 3:58 of the final period after Gionta scored shorthanded with his 25th of the season, unassisted.
But exactly three minutes later, Benoit Pouliot took two penalties on the same play, including one for roughing when he hit Moore long after the play was dead to give Tampa Bay a four-minute power play. The Lightning tied it during the second penalty with a St. Louis slap shot from the point that was tipped in by Gagne at 9:29.
Price made 35 saves through 65 minutes and stopped both St. Louis and Steven Stamkos in the shootout. Unlike St. Louis, Stamkos had his points streak snapped at five games after being held off the score sheet for the first time since a 4-2 loss on Mar. 5, also against Montreal.
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