MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens swept their way into the second round of the NHL playoffs, but not before the Tampa Bay Lightning made it interesting.
After the Canadiens blew a two-goal lead early in the third period, Max Pacioretty scored on a power play with 43 seconds left to play to lift them to a 4-3 victory and a sweep of their Eastern Conference quarter-final against the Lightning on Tuesday night.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Pacioretty, a 39-goal scorer in the regular season who got his first of the series. “I’ve been in a bit of a drought since the end of the year.
“I’ve been getting opportunities and missing my chances. But you wait for that bounce and I got it.”
Montreal won the best-of-seven series 4-0 and now face a long wait for the Eastern Conference semifinal against the winner of the Boston-Detroit series.
Pacioretty, who played for the United States at the Sochi Olympics in February, is glad for the rest.
“Going to Sochi and not having much time off, I feel this is going to be a good chance for me to get in the weight room and find some strength for round two,” he said.
“We have to take advantage of it and try to stay sharp as a group at the same time,” added Canadiens captain Brian Gionta.
It was Montreal’s first sweep since they took out the Buffalo Sabres in four in 1993 en route to the last of their 24 Stanley Cups.
The Canadiens built a 3-1 lead on goals from Daniel Briere, Lars Eller and Brendan Gallagher between one by Tampa Bay’s Ondrej Palat.
But the Bolts amped up the pressure in the third period and tied the game through Victor Hedman and Tyler Johnson.
The officials had swallowed their whistles through most of the third frame, but referee Chris Lee was left with little choice with Cedric Paquette’s clear trip on Michael Bournival with 2:11 left to play, a foul that could have caused an even more controversial turnover. Pacioretty was at the doorstep to whack a Thomas Vanek rebound past Kristers Gudlevskis for the game-winner.
“I’m not going to worry too much about that penalty,” said the rookie Paquette, who had been a ball of energy for Tampa Bay all game. “They didn’t call anything all game long. It just happened at the wrong time. He fell, and they called it. I’ll just have to learn from that.”
Lightning star Steven Stamkos didn’t like the call either, but didn’t dispute the Canadiens had the better of the play for most of the series against the rookie-laden Bolts lineup.
“We played like we had nothing to lose in the third,” said Stamkos. “We were the better team.
“It was tough to see a penalty called at that time in the game. I thought the referees did a good job of putting their whistles away and letting us play in the third. But a play 200 feet from our net gets called. It’s a tough way to lose — a power play goal with under a minute left to play in the game.
“But we learned a lot about what it takes to win in the playoffs. Let’s not kid ourselves: they were the better team for most of the series.”
For a second straight game, the Bell Centre was at a fever pitch with old-time pop star Ginette Reno singing the Canadian anthem. But while it took Rene Bourque only 11 seconds in to score the first goal in Game 3, this time it took 2:24 for Briere to open the scoring.
The Lightning defence abandoned the front of their net to chase Dale Weise in a corner and left Briere alone in front to score his first of the series and 51st playoff goal of his career.
The Canadiens had a 15-6 shot advantage in the period and made it 2-0 when Gionta picked Paquette’s pocket in the neutral zone and sent Eller in on the left side to blast a low shot past Anders Lindback.