Canadians strike first in series with Lightning
TAMPA, Fla. — If Game 1 was a preview of what’s to come, fans should grab their popcorn and settle in for the rest of the Montreal Canadiens’ series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The teams combined for lots of mistakes, lots of goals and lots of hate at Tampa Bay Times Forum on Wednesday night in an entertaining opener to the Atlantic Division semifinals. Fourth-liner Dale Weise provided the last bit of drama with the overtime winner to give the Habs a 5-4 victory and a 1-0 lead in the series.
After Josh Gorges kept it in at the blue-line, Daniel Briere continued his career playoff heroics by feeding Weise for the goal 18:08 into overtime.
“I was surprised I was that wide open,” said Weise.
Tomas Plekanec, Brian Gionta, Lars Eller and Thomas Vanek scored in regulation for Montreal, which outshot Tampa Bay 35-16 through three periods.
“We kept our composure,” Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. “Our players stuck to our game plan and we got rewarded.”
Habs goaltender Carey Price gave up four goals — one each by Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn and two by Steven Stamkos on 16 regulation shots. He stopped all nine he faced in overtime.
Anders Lindback made several big saves of his 39 to keep the Lightning in the game.
“That’s the beauty of overtime. You can’t make any mistakes,” said Briere.
The first playoff game in Tampa since 2011 brought with it a charged atmosphere. It was loud inside the Forum when Price stopped Richard Panik in front five minutes in, but then it got real midway through the first.
A shot by Tampa Bay defenceman Radko Gudas took a weird bounce off the glass behind Price and bounced out in front for Gaspe, Que., native Cedric Paquette. He got it to J.T. Brown, who fed Kucherov in the slot for his first career playoff goal at 10:09.
Before fans were done cheering the Lightning’s first goal in the playoffs since May 25, 2011 — Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final against the Boston Bruins — the Habs struck back. Some simple passing got Plekanec into the offensive zone, and after Gudas blew a tire the Habs centre went top shelf on Lindback to tie it 19 seconds later.
Once the feeling-out process was done, the intensity picked up in the second period when Andrei Markov hit Ondrej Palat after the whistle and Stamkos took exception. Pushing and shoving ensued, and then another scrum a minute later turned up the heat even more.
But it was skill, not brawn that gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead as Stamkos showed why he’s one of the game’s best. The Lightning star busted down the right wing, banked the puck off the boards to get past Brandon Prust, then beat Price clean from almost along the boards at 13:24.
Just over a minute later, there was another dust-up in front of Lindback that only got the players more into the game and the crowd, too.
It looked like the Lightning would get a golden opportunity to add to their lead when P.K. Subban went off for slashing. Instead, Gionta got a short-handed breakaway and shot it off Lindback’s glove, got the rebound and scored at the 16:49 mark.
An uninspired first few minutes of the third period ended when an apparent defensive breakdown by Tampa that gave Eller and Rene Bourque plenty of space to work with. Eller beat Lindback at 5:10 to start a session of trading chances and goals.
At 7:11, Prust turned the puck over right to Killorn, who blasted a shot by Price on just the Lightning’s 12th shot of the game.
Vanek gave the Habs the lead back at 11:30 after a pretty give-and-go with David Desharnais resulted in a perfect deflection.
But that didn’t stand up as the winner because Killorn was able to get the puck by Mike Weaver along the boards to set up a two-on-one with Stamkos. It was a goal as long as Killorn didn’t muff the pass, and he didn’t, giving Stamkos his second of the night at 13:27.
The Habs got a late power play after Killorn high-sticked Max Pacioretty but extended their drought to 0 for the last 25. Then Brown blocked a shot in the final seconds to send the game to overtime.
Tampa Bay had a stellar chance eight minutes into OT when Nate Thompson’s shot went off Price’s right pad and back out in front. It would’ve been an easy goal for Teddy Purcell into a wide-open net had it not been for Gorges diving to poke it away.
Just over 17 minutes in, Pacioretty was staring at plenty of net but clanked his shot off the post.