The Montreal Canadiens were the better possession team Wednesday in Game 3 of their second-round series against Tampa Bay and outshot the Lightning 31-19, but a last-second – literally, a last-second – collapse against the Bolts led to a 2-1 loss and has the Habs on the brink of elimination.
The Montreal Canadiens are the NHL’s most accomplished franchise, but as an Original Six team that’s played in high-stakes games they at times haven’t won, the franchise has had its share of heartbreak as well. And one of the Habs’ more spirit-crushing moments in recent memory took place Wednesday when they faced off against the Lightning in Game 3 of their second-round series; with the score tied at a goal apiece and just 1.1 second remaining in regulation time, the Canadiens suffered a catastrophic defensive breakdown and allowed Bolts star Tyler Johnson to walk in and score the game-winning goal:
It wasn’t just sickening to Habs fans because Johnson drove to the net, took a pass from blueliner Victor Hedman and beat star goalie Carey Price as star defenseman P.K. Subban was right behind him. It wasn’t just a heartbreaker because it came an eye’s blink from a fresh sheet of ice and a chance to beat the Lightning for the first time in eight games. It’s like chugging battery acid for Canadiens fans because it also put Montreal down 3-0 in the series, with Game 4 scheduled for the next night. This was a stomach-punch-with-a-Ticketmaster-surcharge moment, and there was no getting around it.
It didn’t matter that the Canadiens were the better possession team and had more takeaways and fewer giveaways than the Lightning. Nor did it matter that the Habs outshot Tampa Bay 31-19. What mattered is..well, let’s turn the analysis over to Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher:
An emotional #Habs Gallagher: “As long as I’ve been a Montreal Canadien we’ve found ways to win but right now we’re finding ways to lose.”
— John Lu (@JohnLuTSNMtl) May 7, 2015
And this way was one of the most painful ways imaginable. Because prior to the collapse, the Canadiens had fought back to tie the score on Gallagher’s goal at 10:03 of the third. The Lightning had been in a defensive shell since star winger Steven Stamkos slickly set up Alex Killorn for the first goal of Game 3 a dozen minutes into the opening frame, and Montreal began to really dominate from the second period on, hitting Tampa’s post or crossbar three times.
Unfortunately for them, the Habs once again couldn’t do much against goalie Ben Bishop. He was run at and run over numerous times, but Bishop survived it all and emerged with another win against the more celebrated Price. In his past four games, Bishop has stopped 131 of 135 shots for a .970 save percentage, and unless he loses the plot completely in the next four games, it’s going to be extremely difficult for Montreal to solve him.
Montreal only got two man-advantage opportunities in Game 3, but couldn’t score either time and are now 1-for-28 in the post-season. They need more out of their power-play unit, but given that both of Tampa Bay’s goals Wednesday came at even-strength, they need more out of their 5-on-5 unit as well.
The Lightning were on their heels for most of Game 3, but the Canadiens appear to be at a distinct psychological disadvantage. Both teams have goaltenders who can keep them in games, but where the Bolts have any number of players capable of breaking up a low-scoring game with a late goal, the Habs only have the faint hope that one or two players make a major contribution on any given night.
Four goals in three games isn’t going to cut it for Montreal to beat any team that has gotten to this point in the playoffs. The Canadiens can rely on Price to be their meal ticket in the regular season, but unless the players in front of him start pitching in on the scoresheet, the Lightning are going to eat the last of their lunch and send them home to start a summertime search for difference-makers on offense.