TAMPA, Fla. – After losing home-ice advantage on the final day of the regular season, the Montreal Canadiens could’ve found satisfaction in splitting the first two games at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Instead, they dominated the Lightning in a 4-1 victory in Game 2 on Friday night to take a two games to none stranglehold on the Atlantic Division semifinals. Even after hearing chants of “Ole, Ole, Ole” and knowing they were heading back to Bell Centre having accomplished everything they set out to do, the Habs weren’t glowing about their series lead.
“I’m not pleased until the series is over,” defenceman P.K. Subban said.
Montreal is halfway toward ending it and moving on, thanks to a second straight strong performance led by two goals from Rene Bourque and 26 saves by goaltender Carey Price. In the process, the Habs chased Anders Lindback out of the Lightning net and even caused the home team to hold a players-only meeting.
In the visiting locker-room, there was no need for such a scene because the Habs showed on the ice that they’re on the same page and cruising along.
“I think we’re really focused about the work we have to do,” coach Michel Therrien said. “When we approach every game, we don’t want to try to see the end result. Our focus, it’s been like that every game. … I like the composure of that team, I like the leadership of that team.”
Therrien also liked how his team reacted to adjustments made by Tampa Bay and how it managed the puck in Game 2. The kind of errors that led to scoring chances against Wednesday night were just about gone.
“It’s such a fine line in the difference between the games and for us it’s just been consistent play and we’re sticking to our systems and we’re limiting the mistakes,” said forward Brendan Gallagher, who scored Montreal’s third goal of the night.
“We just felt comfortable today. We were able to execute our game plan as well as we wanted to and we got rewarded.”
Sticking to the game plan meant the Habs were able to stay in their comfort zone while taking the Lightning out of theirs. While Tampa Bay had some jump at the start and forced Price to make a handful of early saves, this young group that was playing without Ondrej Palat couldn’t cash in before Montreal poured it on.
“Nobody likes to be suffocated,” Subban said. “It’s pretty frustrating if you got a bag over your head and you can’t breathe. It’s not the best feeling the world.
“It is tough when you turn up the ice as a defenceman and you see three forwards, two defencemen and Carey Price standing in the net.”
Gallagher saw David Desharnais’ power-play goal 2:34 into the second period as the game’s turning point. That snapped an 0-for-27 power-play drought dating to March 25.
“That’s a great lift for the hockey club,” Gallagher said. “It got us going, and we didn’t look back from there.”
From there, Bourque recorded his first multi-goal game since Feb. 2, 2013, scoring his first on a highlight-reel move by blowing past Eric Brewer, undressing Sami Salo and evading Lindback’s poke check.
“It was nice to get the puck with speed and make a move there,” Bourque said, crediting Thomas Vanek for the no-look pass. “I’m not about style points.”
Price racked up style points making his best save of the night 15:31 into the second on Gaspe, Que., native Cedric Paquette. Paquette fired a loose puck from the top of the crease, and Price managed to get his left pad on it.
“I was just kind of scrambling,” Price said. “It was just desperation. I can’t remember what exactly happened or how it wound up there.”
That was one of only a handful of difficult saves Price had to make because the play in front of him was stepped up from Game 1. The Lightning limited their blunders, too, but they still found themselves staring at a 2-0 series deficit.
“We’re not playing well,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “We’re not going to sugar-coat anything. We have a lot better than these first two games. It’s turnovers, it’s compete level, but we know what’s in here. We know we have this group.
“People can make excuses. I’m not going to sit here and make excuses. We’re going to man up and realize we have more to offer.”
Lightning players held a players-only meeting after the loss, something that coach Jon Cooper fully supported.
“When you’ve got a team that cares, they take it upon themselves,” Cooper said. “They understand the magnitude of what’s gone on and for them to sit down and gather their thoughts about it, that’s why I like that group of guys.
“They know what’s at hand here, though, and they know they’ve got more in them. For them to sit around and talk about, it’s good for them.”
Plenty will be talked about before Game 3 Sunday in Montreal, about the Lightning coming back hard with their hopes on the line. Cooper hinted that they’ll go back to Lindback even after he pulled him for Kristers Gudlevskis after Bourque’s second of the night at the 14:39 mark of the third.
No matter who’s in net for Tampa Bay, the Habs are expecting the Lightning’s best.
“This is a team that’s been resilient all year, they’ve got lots of character on that side,” Subban said of the Lightning. “There’s no shortage of us knowing how important these games are going back home.
“We’re not focusing on what the series is. As far as we’re concerned, our mentality is that the series is 0-0 going back home.”
It’s not 0-0, but Cooper thinks there’s still plenty of pressure on the Habs.
“I’m sure they’re tickled pink to go up 2-zip, but they’ve still got to win games,” he said. “They’ve got to go home and deliver.”
Six players who were in Montreal uniforms Friday night were part of the 2011 team that didn’t deliver in this situation. Three years ago the Habs took a two games to none lead on the Bruins, winning both games in Boston, before losing the first-round series in seven.
That was on Subban’s mind after winning Game 2, but he and his teammates are armed with that memory now.
“You go deeper and deeper in these types of series the games get more and more important,” Subban said. “We’re going to have to be ready.”
NOTES—Desharnais’ goal was his first in the Stanley Cup playoffs, while Max Pacioretty’s secondary assist was his first career playoff point. … Therrien went with the same lineup from Game 1, while Cooper replaced injured forward Ondrej Palat with defenceman Andrej Sustr. Tampa Bay went with 11 forwards and seven defencemen, a look they featured 40 times in the regular season. … Lightning forward J.T. Brown left the game briefly in the second period after taking a big hit in front of the bench from Alexei Emelin. He returned to the bench not long after and was back on the ice early in the third.