MONTREAL – The Tampa Bay Lightning played its best game so far in the first round series versus the Montreal Canadiens Sunday at the Bell Centre, but still found itself on the wrong side of a 3-2 loss.
Most post-game talk centered on a controversial disallowed goal with less than five minutes remaining in the second period, which would have given the Bolts their first lead since the second period of Game One.
“It’s tough to walk into that locker room and look those guys in the eye when they played their best game of the series,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “I thought they deserved a better fate tonight.”
The feeling in the rest of the locker room was unanimous, but they ultimately knew it was out of their hands.
“That’s the playoffs,” Ryan Callahan said. “Sometimes when you feel like you deserve better you don’t get that.”
The problems also started long before the disallowed goal. Montreal scored 11 seconds into the contest in front of a deafening crowd that became louder when it took the lead on Rene Bourque's third goal in the past two games.
Anders Lindback managed to settle down between the pipes afterward, giving the Bolts a chance to stay in the contest. The rest of the team, however, generated just eight shots and were forced to play dump and chase for most of the first period. A Mark Barberio double minor for high-sticking did not make it any better for Tampa Bay, though it managed to stay afloat and keep the game 1-0.
The Canadiens started to look frustrated by the midway point of the contest, leading to their first penalty of the game. Less than 30 seconds later, Ondrej Palat evened the game at one.
Tampa Bay then continued on the right track generating its best chances of the series in back-to-back sequences. The havoc in front of the net eventually led to the disallowed goal that would have been credited to Ryan Callahan.
“I was told the referee would make that call on the ice and after he saw it on replay,” Cooper said. “In my opinion I saw it differently, but he’s the one making the call.”
Steven Stamkos was also sidelined for the the final minutes of the second after taking a knee to the head from Alexei Emelin, but returned to the ice to start the third.
“It was just something I tried to shake off,” Stamks said. “Games like this you don’t want to miss any time and I felt good enough to come back.”
The rest of the Lightning came back fighting in the final frame too, seemingly unaffected by the earlier call.
“That was the big thing on the bench once it was disallowed,” Callahan said. “We said keep going, keep working because we were getting opportunities we were getting chances and then they got one on the 4-on-4 and then it’s tough after that.”
Brendan Gallagher scored to give the Habs a 2-1 lead late in the second. Tomas Plekanec then made it a two-goal advantage with less than 15 minutes remaining in regulation.
Six minutes later, Matthew Carle scored his first of the postseason, which Tampa Bay used to rally until the buzzer, but again it was not enough.
“You have to take the positives out of this one,” Callahan said. “The chances we created and the spots of the game we were really good and getting opportunities. We take that and move that into Game 4. It’s one game again.”