The Montreal Canadiens are the only Canadian team in the NHL playoffs this year, but they are determined to keep the representation of their country around for as long as possible. For one round, at least, their goal was accomplished. The Canadiens completed a first round sweep over the Tampa Bay Lightning with a stunning 4-3 victory on Tuesday night.
The game seemed like it would play out like the previous three in the series. Montreal took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission, getting goals from Daniel Briere and Lars Eller. Unfortunately for the Lightning, like in the previous three games, their goaltending was simply not up to par. Ben Bishop has been the Tampa Bay starter throughout the regular season, but a late season injury put the responsibility of the starter’s job on backup, Anders Lindback. It was a responsibility he simply was not prepared to handle. Eller’s goal, especially, was a stoppable shot for any NHL goaltender at the top of his game.
Tampa Bay finally found life in the second period, when rookie Ondrej Palat scored a shorthanded tally early in the period. Some miscommunication between Montreal defenders left the puck floating in front of Carey Price, when Palat grabbed the loose puck and outwaited the young goaltender for a stuff chance. The puck did not initially cross the goal line, but after a lengthy review, it was determined to have been knocked across by Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges in an attempt to prevent the goal. Just over a minute later, the Canadiens would respond. Brendan Gallagher continued his stellar play, getting his third goal and fifth point in the series, scoring yet another goal that Lindback would like to have back.
That would end the night for Lindback, giving up three goals on only 20 shots against. Kristers Gudlevskis would be his replacement, playing in only his third NHL game. However, his performance on the night has to make Tampa Bay fans wonder why he was not getting the start from the very beginning of the series. Gudlevskis has shown the ability to play at a high level, representing his home country of Latvia in the Sochi Olympics, and he was able to bring that same level of play coming in cold just five minutes into the second period. The Canadiens put up 14 shots in the second period, but the only goal scored was the one allowed by Lindback.
The goaltending change seemed to spark the Lightning in the third. An early goal by Victor Hedman cut the deficit to one, and a flukey bounce allowed Tyler Johnson to tie it midway through the period. The game seemed destined for overtime, until a stupid mistake by an overeager rookie put Montreal on the powerplay. Cedric Paquette only played in two games during the regular season, and saw very little time in the playoffs, but he was called for tripping with just over three minutes remaining in the game. With only 30 seconds left on the powerplay, Max Pacioretty became the hero for Montreal, stuffing the puck past Gudlevskis with only 43 seconds left in the game.
For Montreal fans, the series could not have gone better. All their major players contributed to the sweep, led by defenseman PK Subban. Subban not only averaged over 22 minutes throughout the series, but contributed five assists as well, including a secondary assist on the series-winning goal. The series provided very little to be concerned about, as Price was rarely tested, and now the Canadiens have a little time to rest before their second round matchup. For Tampa Bay fans, this series will be one of “what if”. What if they had won Game 1 in overtime? What if Gudlevskis started the series from the beginning? What if Bishop had not been injured late in the regular season? They will have a long offseason to contemplate these questions, after a stunning last minute goal from the Montreal Canadiens completed the sweep of their team on Tuesday night.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner