Prior to Tampa Bay’s fourth meeting of the season with the Atlantic Division leading Montreal Canadiens, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said the matchup between the two teams is “a great fan game.”
The sellout crowd of 19,204 at Amalie Arena certainly got their money’s worth Monday night.
Tampa Bay broke out to a 3-0 lead within the game’ s first 23 minutes then held off a furious Montreal rally to beat the Canadiens for the fourth-straight time this season.
The 4-2 victory pulls the Lightning (43-21-7, 93 points) into a tie for first place in the Atlantic, Montreal (43-20-7, 93 points) still owning a game in hand.
“It was a big game,” said Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, who made 32 saves to earn his 34th victory of the season. “We wanted to take care of our home ice. We obviously weren’t happy with the way we played against Winnipeg, and I thought we did a good job of coming out tonight…had a really good first half of the game and then like I said in the third, we kind of bent but didn’t break and ended up with the W.”
Victor Hedman’s 10th goal of the season at 2:45 of the second proved to be the game-winning goal and gave the Lightning a 3-0 lead early in the period.
Alex Killorn led a breakout for the Bolts and slipped the puck past Montreal’s Jeff Petry ahead for Hedman alone on goal. Hedman fired a low shot that beat Montreal goalie Carey Price stick side, Killorn and Ryan Callahan grabbing the assists for a 3-0 Lightning lead.
“I was just trying to keep going with my momentum,” Hedman said. “Cally did a great job on the wall, and I just tried to gain speed there. Killer made a really nice play and found that I had a little bit more time than I thought at first, but it was nice to see that one go in.”
Hedman becomes the 10th Bolt to register 10 or more goals this season, the most in the NHL.
Montreal got a goal back on the power play following a roughing call to J.T. Brown. From the right wing near the goal line, Tomas Plekanec sent the puck into the crease with Alex Galchenyuk charging the back post. Plekanec’s pass squeezed through Bishop at 11:10 after hitting the goalie’s stick for the Canadiens’ first goal.
Montreal drew closer just 34 seconds into the third period, the Canadiens catching Bishop playing the puck behind his net. Plekanec stole Bishop’s pass and dished in front to Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, who buried the wide-open opportunity to make it 3-2 Lightning.
The Lightning were teetering over most of the third period, but Bishop kept the Canadiens from tying the game, somehow keeping the puck out of the net with just over five minutes to go when Galchenyuk’s tip at the net hit him, bounced over his shoulder and sat on the ice, inches from crossing the line.
“I don’t know what happened,” Bishop said of the play. “It hit me in the face, and then I have no idea where it went…The guys did a great job in the third. Everybody was stepping up, blocking shots, doing the little things to get the win there.”
Tampa Bay improves to 30-0-2 when leading after two periods.
“A couple lapses during the game, we were pushed hard, Bish made some good saves, but we didn’t break,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “That’s a good characteristic to have when things are going to happen like that, especially during playoff time in close games and you have to react. We stuck together and it was a good win for us.”
Stamkos scored his second goal of the evening and 39th of the season on an empty net with 1:05 to go to seal the victory. Stamkos moves into a tie with the New York Rangers’ Rick Nash for second on the NHL goal leader list.
In four wins over Montreal this season, the Lightning have won by a combined 16-5.
Valtteri Filppula converted the Lightning’s first power play of the night for a 1-0 Bolts lead at 10:07 of the opening period. Filppula received the puck all alone on the right circle and wristed a shot underneath the body of Andrei Markov and through the legs of Price.
Filppula scored his 11th of the season, Hedman and Stamkos providing assists.
Stamkos made it 2-0 Tampa Bay through one period of play after capitalizing on an absolute gift by the Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty. With Stamkos standing alone along the Habs’ blue line trailing the play, Pacioretty inexplicably sent the puck behind for Stamkos, who took the freebee into the right circle and ripped a slap shot high over Price’s glove at 15:58 of the first.
“That was obviously a weird play how it all developed, but people come to see that: Stamkos vs. Price,” Cooper said. “It was a one-on-one duel, and Price has won some and Stammer has won some and Stammer happened to get that one.”
After losing two in a row entering Monday’s game, the Lightning avoid dropping their third straight and remain the only team in the NHL to do so.
“It was definitely a good response after a game where we didn’t play very well against Winnipeg,” Stamkos said.
The Lightning continue their season-long, six-game homestand on Friday with a matchup versus the Detroit Red Wings, a team the Bolts are 2-0 against in 2014-15.