Gionta’s second goal in final minute lifts Canadiens over Lightning 3-2

MONTREAL – Carey Price knew the barrage of goals had to end some time.

And with a little help from his goalposts, the Montreal Canadiens goalie put a stop to it Thursday night with a solid, 32-save performance in a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I feel pretty good,” said Price, whose team was coming off a season-high three straight regulation time defeats in which they gave up 18 total goals.

Price, who has been stellar for most of the season, had been pulled from consecutive starts for the first time in his career while letting in 12 goals on only 53 shots, while backup Peter Budaj let in the other six.

“It was a bit of a tough week, obviously, when you get 18 goals scored on you in three games,” Price said. “It’s tough, but as a professional, you have to keep battling through it.

“I spoke to my dad about it and he said there’s no short cut. If there was, someone would have figured it out by now. The only way is to keep working.”

Brian Gionta’s second goal of the game with 47 seconds left to play was the game-winner for Montreal (27-12-5). Alex Galchenyuk also scored as the Canadiens swept their three-game season series with the Lightning.

Richard Panik and Vincent Lecavalier had goals for Tampa Bay (17-22-4), who are winless in five and have only one victory in eight games. The Lightning ended a four-game road trip.

Thursday was Montreal’s first win since clinching a playoff spot last week and it put them back into first place in the Northeast Division, two points ahead of Boston which has two games in hand.

The lack of energy the Habs had shown of late was still there at times, but at least they managed to stop the bleeding.

The Canadiens had given up nine goals in the first period of their three previous games, but Price’s posts came to his rescue this time as Teddy Purcell, Sami Salo and Lacavalier all hit the iron in a scoreless opening 20 minutes.

Price then made some brilliant saves, including one in the second when he managed thwarted Martin St. Louis from in close.

That got the 21,273 at the Bell Centre, who had been on his back, chanting his name.

“It’s tough as a goaltender here,” Price said. “It can be nerve-wracking, but I’ve got a lot of experience dealing with this type of situation.

“You just have to take a step back, relax, put in some honest work. Usually bad times don’t hang around too long.”

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Canadiens coach Michel Therrien looked almost as relieved as his goaltender.

“I’m really satisfied and proud of Carey Price,” he said. “He bounced back.

“It was lucky at times, but you need some breaks to win.”

Shots were 35-34 in Montreal’s favour and Ben Bishop was also solid in goal for the Lightning.

The loss left them 3-5-3 since Jon Cooper replaced Guy Boucher as head coach.

“I haven’t been here that long, but that was the best game we’ve played from start to finish,” said Cooper. “I though we controlled a lot of the play.

“I don’t know what the scoring chances were, but I’d have to say we were on the positive end of that. But unfortunately, we’re on the negative end of the score. But if you can play consistently the way we did, we’re going to win more games than we lose.”

Montreal took the lead 4:04 into the second when Galchenyuk was parked at the edge of the crease to slip in a bouncing pass from Brendan Gallagher. It was the rookie’s sixth goal in his last eight games.

Gionta then redirected a Tomas Plekanec pass behind Bishop after a turnover at the Tampa Bay blue-line at 15:05.

The Lightning took advantage of their first power play as Panik made a deft move to take in a Victor Hedman pass and lift it over Price at 17:36.

Lecavalier tied it 5:07 into the third when a Hedman shot deflected off some skates in front and left a wide opening for the Bolts’ captain to score his 10th of the season.

The Lightning took a string of penalties in the third period and the last one coast them as Gionta banged in the rebound off the end boards of a Yannick Weber shot for the game-winner.

“It was a scrambly play and it’s nice to capitalize on that, but the best thing is we’re getting back to winning ways and getting more confidence,” said Gionta. “It’s big for our confidence.

“When you lose a few tough games, you lose that little edge, so it’s nice to get that back.”

Salo left early in the second period with an upper body injury and did not return. Cooper said it did not appear to be serious.

Notes: Brandon Prust sat out and Michael Ryder returned to the lineup for Montreal. Prust is expected back for a home game Saturday against Washington. The Canadiens returned rookie Nathan Beaulieu to AHL Hamilton, as Raphael Diaz is expected to return from a concussion on Saturday. … Tom Pyatt was scratched for Tampa Bay.