MONTREAL – Though the Tampa Bay Lightning managed to overcome each and every curveball thrown its way this campaign, adversity finally got the best of the it, as the season came ended in a 4-3 loss by the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday night at Bell Centre.
“Obviosuly we aren’t going to sit here and make excuses, but it was a pretty whirlwind season for our team,” Captain Steven Stamkos said. “I think it just caught up with us, we weren’t getting any bounces, any breaks in this series. Hopefully we now know what it takes to win.”
Head coach Jon Cooper even took a second to reflect on how proud he was of the team after the loss.
“It’s been well documented what the team’s been through this year,” Cooper said. “It’s been a transition year for us in an unbelievably positive way. Ultimately, we wanted to make the playoffs, we did that, but we wanted to make sure Tampa Bay Lightning fans everywhere were proud of their team, because I sure was proud of our team.”
The Canadiens nursed a 2-0 lead until 4:32 of the second period, as it seemed the Bolts might end the series in an uninspiring fashion, but they kept hope alive. Stamkos went to the penalty box for two minutes, but with seven seconds left on the penalty kill, Ondrej Palat was credited with a shorthanded goal to bring Tampa Bay within one.
Yet the Palat tally was not a goal that steered momentum in favor of the Lightning, but rather a bit of bad puck luck for the Canadiens, as Josh Gorges put it in his own net. Montreal redeemed itself 1 minute, 10 seconds later when Brendan Gallagher helped the Habs re-gain their two-goal advantage that again made the Lightning’s fate look imminent.
The Bolts made a change in net from Anders Lindback to Kristers Gudlevskis in the second period. And their inability to register shots on goal, which were kept to just two in the final 14 minutes of the second period, also did not sit well in their favor.
However, the Lightning battled on with Gudlevskis making nine saves to end the second.
Victor Hedman made it 3-2 when his shot from behind the net bounced off Habs’ goaltender Carey Price’s back and past the goal line less than four minutes into the third.
And then just three minutes later Tyler Johnson locked the game at three.
“The big thing was if we were going to go down, we were going to go down swinging,” Cooper said. “I think there was 21,000 people that were a little nervous in that third period.”
But just like the disallowed goal last game and the instance when Stamkos broke his stick as he wound up to take a shot tonight, ill fortune greeted the Bolts with just 2:11 remaining in the game when Cedric Paquette took a penalty for tripping.
“How often did Steven Stamkos come down the hole and has the open net and his stick breaks?” Cooper said. “You just think that has got to end at some point and it just didn’t.”
Max Pacioretty sealed the Lightning’s fate with 46.2 seconds remaining by scoring on a rebound. It was the only goal allowed by Gudlevskis, who made 16 saves in his second playoff relief appearance.
“As soon as I walked into the room I said 'Cedric pick your head up,'” Cooper said. “Two of the game-winning goals, the poor kid was on the ice for, but he was the first kid I went to hug in the room because he was absolutely outstanding for us. Nobody looks in that room and says he’s the goat.”
It is the first time in franchise history the Lightning has been swept in a playoff series.