Tampa Bay’s meeting with Montreal at the Bell Centre was billed as a battle for the top spot in the Atlantic Division.
The Lightning entered with a chance to pull into a tie with the division-leading Canadiens -- although Montreal would still have a game in hand -- in the Atlantic.
Instead, Monday’s game turned into a competition to see which goaltender would blink first.
Advantage: Ben Bishop.
The Bolts goalie turned away 19 Montreal shots, none better than his kick save at the far post to deny Jacob De La Rose’s rebound opportunity in the second period, to keep the Canadiens off the scoreboard.
Montreal’s Carey Price was just as effective, saving 33 shots through 60 minutes.
In overtime, Price finally showed a chink in the armor, and the Bolts capitalized. Tyler Johnson scored 1:03 into the extra frame to send Tampa Bay to its fourth straight victory with a 1-0 win.
The Lightning have won all three matchups with the Canadiens so far this season with two more left to play.
“A lot of people are going to talk about Price, but let’s talk about Bish for a second,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “If he doesn’t make that save (on De La Rose), and you need your goalie to keep you in and he kept us in. I can’t say enough about his performance.”
Tampa Bay (42-20-6, 90 points) closes within one of Montreal (42-18-7, 91 points).
“I know these are regular season games, but it’s just a confidence builder for our team knowing that we can come into this building and win,” Cooper said. “It’s a tough environment to play in. It’s the holy grail of hockey, and it’s a lot of fun to play here.
‘It’s really that much more fun when you win.”
Johnson’s game-winner came off a scramble from in front of Price, who finished with 35 saves.
He couldn’t stop number 36, though.
An initial shot by Johnson was blocked away by Price, but the Triplets pivot collected the rebound and sent the puck far post where it was tipped in by the skate of a Montreal player.
Nikita Kucherov was crashing hard toward goal to redirect the puck as it appeared initially that Johnson was trying to pass to the Russian rather than shoot.
Instead, the Lightning got a fortunate break, which they’ll gladly take.
“That’s the thing, when you’re playing good teams, and they’re doing the same thing, they’re waiting for the big mistake,” Cooper said. “We really didn’t make too many, and when we did, Bish saved us. If you can limit your mistakes, it’s going to help you win games.”
Johnson extends his point streak to seven games, tying a season high.
The Lightning outshot Montreal 36-19, including a 13-2 advantage over the final period plus overtime.
“To hold a really good team like that in a 0-0 game to two shots in the third period, you can’t ask for much more from your guys,” Cooper said.
Bishop wins his 33rd game of the season and is inching closer to the franchise record 37 he set a year ago.
“We just stayed with our structure,” Cooper said. “We didn’t get frustrated. We just treated this as a playoff game, and this is the way they go. You don’t see a ton of 5-4, 6-5 games in overtime, you’ve got to be able to win the 2-1, 1-0 games, and we found a way today.”
Bolts left wing Ondrej Palat left the game after taking a puck off the body with 2:03 remaining in the second period. Palat didn’t return to the bench for the third period and missed the rest of the game with a lower-body injury.
“I think they took a picture,” Cooper said, referring to an x-ray. “I think it was OK, but you know how it goes, once you take the skate off, there’s not much of a chance of getting it back on.…We’ll re-evaluate tomorrow but I think the picture looked good, so should be OK.”
The Lightning complete their mini, two-game road trip in Boston against the Bruins on Thursday. The Bolts return to Amalie Arena for a season-long, six-game homestand starting Saturday versus Winnipeg.