Although it is difficult to expect it is anything save a case of delaying the inevitable, the Montréal Canadiens at least avoided the ignominy of being swept in the Stanley Cup Finals by defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 in overtime Monday evening. The series now stands at three to one in favor of the Lightning, with Game Five scheduled for Wednesday evening in Tampa.
Unlike the first three games in the series, which saw Montréal overmatched and overwhelmed from start to finish against a highly skilled and relentlessly pressuring Tampa Bay, the Canadiens managed for the first time in the Finals to get on the scoreboard first, although given how Canadiens goalie Carey Price was playing hot potato with the puck, first giving it away then immediately making a strong save, it was somewhat surprising the Lightning weren’t up by three goals. At 15:39 of the first period, Nick Suzuki took advantage of a rare Lightning defensive positioning mistake to pass from behind the Lightning net to a wide-open Josh Anderson, who flicked the puck past Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy for not only Montréal’s first time scoring first in the series, but first lead, period. The Canadiens defense, which had up to now been unable to keep pace with the Lightning’s fierce attack, preserved the lead until late in the second period when Barclay Goodrow took advantage of a Montréal turnover in the defensive zone courtesy of Ryan McDonagh’s smart play to bury a wrister past Price.
The Canadians retook the lead early in the third period when Alexander Romanov launched a shot from the high point that somehow got through everyone and everything. The Lightning equalized matters exactly five minutes later courtesy of Pat Maroon finishing a two-on-one. It warrants mention that neither team, especially Montréal, dazzled with discipline; power play opportunities were plentiful with the Canadiens having to stop five Lightning power players. The third period ended with Montréal attempting to kill off what turned out to be the last of these, a double minor for high sticking, which carried over into the overtime. They succeeded, and shortly thereafter Anderson scored his second goal of the game.
As noted, it is rather improbable that the Canadiens will win the next two games and force a deciding Game Seven. But unless you’re a Lightning fan, it’d be fun to watch.