TAMPA, Fla. — If there’s such thing as hockey amnesia, the Montreal Canadiens discovered it.
Less than 24 hours after losing with 1.1 seconds left to fall behind three games to none, the Canadiens skated the Tampa Bay Lightning out of Amalie Arena Thursday night with a 6-2 statement victory to stave off elimination.
“We forgot about last night, last night,” said Montreal forward Brandon Prust. “We did a good job of moving on.”
The series shifts back to Bell Centre for Game 5 Saturday night.
So much of the Habs’ struggles against the Lightning appeared mental after losing all five regular-season meetings and then the first three of their second-round playoff series. Compound that with the devastating buzzer beater from Tyler Johnson in Game 3 and a quick turnaround, the task was even more daunting.
Instead, Montreal came out flying to end the drought against Tampa Bay at eight games. The Habs avoided becoming the first team in NHL history to get swept by the same team they swept the season before.
Max Pacioretty led the way with a goal and two assists as the Habs chased Tampa Bay starter Ben Bishop, who allowed three on 14 shots. Carey Price shut the door at the other end to extend Michel Therrien’s streak of never being swept as an NHL coach.
“There was no difference,” Pacioretty said about Thursday’s effort. “We were desperate.”
Andrei Markov, David Desharnais, Jeff Petry, Brendan Gallagher and Prust also scored on a breakout night for Montreal, which scored a total of four goals through the first three games of the series.
Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat scored power-play goals for the Lightning, who couldn’t get their act together with the chance to advance to the Eastern Conference final. Steven Stamkos was held without a shot on goal for the second straight game.
The morning after a stunning, last-second victory to take a stranglehold on the series, Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper and his players almost sounded like they had lost. The Habs dominated Wednesday night, so much that the Lightning felt they stole one.
Maybe Montreal controlling the play propelled their confidence for Game 4. Facing a deficit only four NHL teams have overcome, the Habs exuded a quiet confidence not about the big picture, but just about one night and what could happen if they could continue to create scoring chances.
Frustrated at times by the number and quality of opportunities they’d had in Game 3, Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau said he didn’t know what he and his teammates had to do differently to finish.
A couple of bounces early helped, and once the dam opened the score got lopsided.
Bishop was helpless on Markov’s opening goal after dazzling moves and a perfect pass by P.K. Subban, and then again on Pacioretty’s short-handed goal. The hook came in the second after Desharnais’ shot went in off Bishop’s glove.
Even though Bishop made a few crucial saves to keep the Habs from running away with it earlier, coach Jon Cooper called on Andrei Vasilevskiy to make his NHL playoff debut. Vasilevskiy allowed goals on two of the first three shots he faced and a total of three goals on 25 shots.
“We’re alive,” said Subban. “We’re going back to Montreal.”