MONTREAL — Defining moments during a playoff series emerge and present themselves.
For the Tampa Bay Lightning, that came in the final five minutes of the second period of a 3-2 loss to Montreal in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. The loss puts Tampa Bay down 0-3 in the best-of-seven series and has the Canadiens on the cusp of a sweep heading into Tuesday’s Game 4 at Bell Centre.
Ondrej Palat and Matt Carle scored for the Lightning while Steven Stamkos had a pair of assists. Anders Lindback finished with 28 saves to suffer the loss.
Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher and Rene Bourque scored for Montreal while P.K. Subban added two assists. Carey Price finished with 27 saves.
Tampa Bay played its best game of the series, playing with more desperation, utilizing its speed and putting the most pressure on Montreal in the three games in the series to date. After surviving a first period in which Tampa Bay overcame Bourque’s goal 11 seconds into the game and withstood several Montreal odd-man rushes thanks to a stellar period from Lindback, who finished with 12 saves, the Lightning went to work in the second period and had the Canadiens spending more time defending in their own zone.
“I thought this was our best game, the effort was there tonight,’’ Stamkos said. “It’s one of those things were maybe the first two games we didn’t deserve the better fate, but today we did and we didn’t get it, so it’s tough to swallow.’’
The Lightning looked like they were on the verge of turning things around and possible climbing back into the series when Palat, who missed Game 2 with an upper body injury, scored a power play goal to pull the Lightning even at 8:39 of the second period.
Then it all changed in the span of five minutes as Murphy’s Law went into effect as everything that could go wrong for Tampa Bay did.
Ryan Callahan appeared to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead with 4:22 left in the second period when his shot was kicked into the net by Price. But the goal was waived off by referee Francis Charron for incidental contact by Killorn moments earlier.
Shortly after losing the goal, Tampa Bay then lost Stamkos for the rest of the period when he was kneed in the back of the head by Alexei Yemelin as Stamkos fell to the ice in the defensive zone with 3:51 left in the period. With the teams then in a 4-on-4 situation as Radko Gudas and Brandon Prust were serving matching penalties, the Canadiens would take the lead when Subban made a spin move up high in the zone, made his way down low and lost Palat behind the net as Palat got tripped up as his stick was caught in the back of the net. As Subban came out the other side, he found Gallagher for a wrist shot over Lindback at 18:10.
“How often is it that a player goes behind the net and his stick gets caught in the net and he trips over it to leave a guy open?,’’ Cooper said. “When does that happen? And it just seems like those things are happening a little bit to us.’’
Though Stamkos did return for the third period after being cleared to return, Plekanec would make it a 3-1 game early in the third, and though Tampa Bay did not throw up their hands in defeat and cut to within one on Carle’s goal with 8:24 left in the game, the Canadiens would go on to take a stranglehold on the series.
“We have to pull the positives out of this, the chances we created,’’ Callahan said. “There were spots in the game where we were really good at getting opportunities. You have to take that into Game 4, and all it takes is one game.’’