The last time the Tampa Bay Lightning played in Montreal’s Bell Centre, the Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty ended the Bolts’ season, his power-play goal with 43 seconds to go in Game 4 of the 2013-14 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals completing a four-game sweep of Tampa Bay.
Tuesday, the Lightning got a small measure of revenge.
And the Bolts picked up an important victory in a pivotal mid-season matchup between the top two teams points-wise in the East.
Tampa Bay overpowered the Canadiens in the second period, the Bolts’ blitzkrieg producing four unanswered goals during the 20-minute frame in a dominating 4-2 victory.
With the win, the Lightning take over first place in the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division.
The Bolts are 2-0 against Montreal this season and have outscored the Canadiens 11-3.
“I think we’re growing a little bit as a team,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “We’ve had marginal success on the road, and when I say that, we were kind of hovering around .500. We come into a tough building. We go down 1-0. I don’t like the fact we’ve gone down, but the Toronto game we were down two, Ottawa we were down one, tonight down one. We thought we kind of deserved a little bit of better fate, and guys just stuck to the program and it worked out.”
Tampa Bay (26-12-4, 56 points) entered the second period trailing 1-0 but quickly erased the deficit, J.T. Brown scoring his second goal of the season at 3:17 on a rebound. Jonathan Drouin shot from the right wing into traffic in front of Montreal goaltender Carey Price, and Brown was lurking in front to slip home the rebound, Drouin and Brian Boyle assisting on the score.
Tyler Johnson gave the Lightning the lead for good midway through the period on a play nearly identical to the one that produced the Bolts’ fourth goal on Sunday in Ottawa. On the left wing, Nikita Kucherov faked a shot and sent a cross-ice pass to the right circle for Johnson, who redirected the puck past price at 10:42.
Johnson scored his 16th of the season, Kucherov and Ondrej Palat gathered assists.
“They’ve really learned how to play in this league,” Cooper said about his triplets line. “When you’ve got guys of their hockey IQ, the speed, the skill, but really, they compete really hard. It’s just a fun line to coach.”
Brett Connolly’s wicked wrist shot from the left dot put the Lightning ahead 3-1 at 18:16 of the second period and proved to be the game-winner. On an odd-man rush, Valtteri Filppula dropped a pass back to Connolly, who picked his spot top shelf over Price’s glove for his eight goal of the season.
Filppula and Paquette collected assists.
Palat capped the scoring onslaught with 22 seconds remaining in the period, jamming a puck past Price (31 saves) off a scramble play in front on a later Tampa Bay power play.
Palat’s 10th goal of the season gave Tampa Bay a 4-1 lead. Kucherov assisted.
The Bolts went 2-for-5 on the power play on Tuesday.
Montreal (26-12-2, 54 points) had won six in a row prior to facing the Lightning. The Canadiens were 16-0-0 when scoring first entering tonight’s game.
Both streaks were emphatically snapped by the Lightning.
“We might be maturing now a little bit as a team,” Cooper said. “We’ve just got so many of those young guys, especially up front, and they just stuck with it and it worked out.”
Tampa Bay has won six of its last seven games. The Lightning finish their four-game road trip 3-1-0. The Bolts return to Amalie Arena on Friday when they host the Buffalo Sabres, the fourth of five meetings between the two teams.
Montreal scored first on Tuesday, the Canadiens benefitting from the skate of Dale Weise to beat Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, who earned his 20th win of the season after making 20 saves on 22 shots. Tomas Plekanec lined up a wrist shot from the right circle. Weise tipped the puck off the far post with his skate and into goal for a 1-0 Canadiens lead at 15:07.
“They’re a tough team to come back on, especially with the guy they have between the pipes,” Cooper said.
Pacioretty scored 5:01 into the third period to cut the Bolts’ lead to 4-2. His wrist shot from the slot was slowed by Bishop but not enough to stop the puck from going over the goal line.
Tampa Bay dug in, however, limiting Montreal’s chances over the final 15 minutes of the game in perhaps its finest victory of the 2014-15 season to date. Montreal had a power play with less than five minutes to go and turned it into a 6-on-4 after pulling Price, but the Lightning defense was up for the challenge.
“The difference was the special teams, and we got the power-play goals we needed…We go down with five minutes to go, if they score there, now all of a sudden I’m losing more hair than I have already. So, it’s a huge penalty kill.”
Tampa Bay outshot Montreal 35-22. The Lightning improve to 11-8-3 away from Amalie Arena.