Interim coach Rick Tocchet had said that tonight’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, after a four-day layoff, would be about focus, and in response, after dispensing with an uneven opening period, the Lightning delivered a tightly focused performance defeating the Canadiens, 5-3, before a St. Pete Times Forum crowd of 15,912.
Tampa Bay didn’t generate many shots on goal tonight, but enough of them found their way into the net as they played havoc with Montreal netminder Carey Price’s .919 save percentage, scoring five times on only 24 shots.
The Lightning opened the scoring just 3:08 into the game when Ryan Malone got his 14th goal of the season off a centering pass by Evgeny Artyukhin.
After that quick score, the Canadiens found their focus too, and they didn’t allow the Tampa Bay lead to stand for more than four minutes. Montreal forward Maxim LaPierre deflected a shot from the point past Lightning goaltender Mike Smith to tie the score at 1-1.
When Smith misplayed the puck behind the Lightning net less than a minute later, Montreal forward Alex Kovalev took advantage. His shot into the empty net gave the Canadiens the lead, 2-1.
Once the Canadiens grabbed the lead the Lightning grabbed a seat – in the penalty box, that is, getting whistled for three consecutive infractions, giving Montreal the extra skater, including a 92 second two-man advantage that Tampa Bay successfully killed off.
Skating with at least a one-man advantage for much of the period, Montreal compiled 17 consecutive shots on goal at one stretch, while Smith made multiple acrobatic saves to keep the puck out of the Lightning net.
The Lightning had a great opportunity to tie the score when Mark Recchi was awarded a penalty shot at 17.41. His backhand effort was gloved by Price.
Still in period one, with Roman Hamrlik in the penalty box for hooking, Montreal generated a rare three-on-one shorthanded scoring opportunity but Smith made a spectacular stop as he dove across the net to glove Robert Lang’s shot from just outside the crease.
The Lightning regrouped between periods and began the second stanza as they had begun the first, getting the tying goal just 2:49 into the period. Skating with a man advantage on the power play, Vincent Lecavalier took a pass from Martin St. Louis and cruised in front of the Montreal net, depositing the puck over Price’s left shoulder. Cory Murphy also got an assist on Lecavalier’s team-leading 22nd goal of the season.
Vaclav Prospal put the Lightning back into the lead at 14:57 when he banked a rebound of Lukas Krajicek’s shot off Price and into the Montreal net. Prospal’s goal was his 12th of the season and extended his scoring streak to four games.
“You take the goals anyway they come,” Prospal said. “The shot hit me and stuck in my jersey and the goalie didn’t know where it was. That’s how I ended up with an open net.”
Even the centering passes were finding the twine as the Lightning continued their assault with Steve Downie aiming a pass from behind the net to Steven Stamkos waiting in the slot, but the pass never made it that far as it deflected off a Canadien defenseman and into the goal. Downie got credit for the score, his third of the season, at 17:08, with assists to Stamkos and Steve Eminger.
Meanwhile, in the defensive zone, Mike Smith was atoning for his early miscue by putting on a goaltending clinic, grabbing everything that Montreal could throw on net at him.
The Lightning closed out the period with a 4-2 advantage, after scoring three goals on five shots.
“They (Montreal) had all the momentum going into the second,” Mike Smith said. “Our team re-focused after that first period and went out with a different attitude and got back to our game plan and it worked out for us.”
With Roman Hamrlik off the ice for hooking at 10:27 of the third period, St. Louis and Lecavalier teamed for the second Tampa Bay power play goal of the night, on a highlight reel give and go which left the Forum crowd in awe. St. Louis’ goal was his 18th of the season and Andrej Meszaros also was credited with an assist.
“You have to like those back-door tap-ins,” St. Louis said. “I knew right away once I got the puck to Vinny that it was coming back.”
Montreal got the goal back just moments later when Maxim LaPierre pushed the puck past Smith from in front of the crease for his second goal of the night, but this game belonged to Lecavalier, Smith and St. Louis as the Lightning closed out the Canadiens for the 5-3 victory.
“We didn’t have a good first period,” coach Tocchet commented, “but the good thing about it is that we talked about it between periods and they responded. To me, that’s a sign of a team that’s coming together.”
If the Lightning are coming together, they’ll have to stay together, as they seek to climb back into the playoff race. Tonight’s game put the wraps on the five-game homestand which saw Tampa Bay go 4-1.
The Lightning head out to Carolina to face the Southeast Division rival Hurricanes, one of the teams they have to catch if they plan to contend for a playoff berth, on Thursday in Raleigh and then it’s back to the comforts of the St. Pete Times Forum for seven of their next nine games.
1 - 0 TBL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 MTL
Martin St. Louis
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 TBL
4 - 2 TBL
Martin St. Louis
5 - 2 TBL
5 - 3 TBL
Delaying Game - Puck over glass