TAMPA – If you had told J.T. Miller at this time last month that he soon would be skating on a line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, he would have, what?
"Laughed," Miller said.
Why not? A month ago, Miller was a member of the foundering Rangers, his name barely a blip on anyone's trade-tracking radar. Yet, there was Miller on Saturday, skating for the Lightning with two of the best scorers in the game and adding a spark to the line.
It was a forecheck by Miller behind the Canadiens' net that created the turnover that led to a goal by Kucherov that tied the score at 2 in the third period.
You know the rest.
Kucherov scored the winner in the shootout to complete the rally for a 3-2 win at Amalie Arena.
The Lightning (48-17-4) reached 100 points for the fifth time in franchise history. It did it on an afternoon when defenseman Ryan McDonagh, the big name in the trade that bought Miller to Tampa Bay, made his Lightning debut after missing five games with the team because of an upper-body injury.
McDonagh gave the Lightning a lift, especially on the penalty kill.
But it was Miller who provided the biggest boost against the Canadiens, who led 1-0 in the first and 2-1 after two periods.
Montreal did a nice job of getting the puck out of its end and sending it the length of the ice, which forced the Lightning's offense to play a 200-foot game.
The Lightning, playing at 1 p.m. on Saturday for the second consecutive week, looked flat at times.
Then coach Jon Cooper mixed his lines, moving Miller to the left wing with Stamkos (center) and Kucherov (right wing).
"It wasn't clicking," Cooper said of this offense during the first two periods. "We make the move to put 'Millsy' up there, and I thought instantly it gave them a spark from the first shift of the third and all the way through."
The biggest spark came with a little more than 6 minutes to play when Miller crashed into Canadiens defenseman Jordie Benn behind the Montreal net, jarring the puck loose. The puck skidded to Stamkos, skating near the boards. From there it was a quick pass to Kucherov in front of the net.
Kucherov tied the score with his 34th goal of the season.
"It's a heck of an opportunity," Miller said of playing with his new linemates. "It makes my job easy playing with those guys."
Miller has six points in his past four games.
"It's a little different style than what I was used to," he said. "These guys have been great. They're helping me along the way. They tell me to play my game. They tell me to keep it simple and the plays will open up. They play fast."
Miller quickly corrected himself.
"We play fast," he said.
Miller's size and grit are great additions to the Lightning, because it is in need of both. His ability as a playmaker has shown up in the almost two weeks since the trade.
He made an impact Saturday.
"It's funny how that works," Cooper said. "Sometimes when you move things around, it just changes the dynamic of the way the team is rolling and how the guys are thinking. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't, and (Saturday) it did."
Lightning 1 0 1 0 3
Canadiens 1 1 0 0 2
Lightning wins shootout 2-1
First Period—1, Montreal, Lehkonen 6 (Reilly, Hudon), 4:10 (pp). 2, Tampa Bay, Johnson 20 (Gourde, Sergachev), 13:43 (pp). Penalties—Erne, TB, (hooking), 2:45; de la Rose, MTL, (tripping), 12:32; de la Rose, MTL, (high sticking), 19:36.
Second Period—3, Montreal, Galchenyuk 16 (Hudon), 3:00. Penalties—Juulsen, MTL, (delay of game), 6:39; Hudon, MTL, (tripping), 11:09; Erne, TB, (holding stick), 11:09.
Third Period—4, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 34 (Stamkos, Miller), 13:43. Penalties—Paquette, TB, Major (fighting), 2:51; Benn, MTL, Major (fighting), 2:51; Miller, TB, (boarding), 7:17; Kunitz, TB, (high sticking), 15:58.
Overtime—None. Penalties—Drouin, MTL, (tripping), 2:08.
Shootout—Montreal 1 (Byron NG, Gallagher NG, Drouin G, Lehkonen NG), Tampa Bay 2 (Sergachev NG, Point G, Stamkos NG, Kucherov G). Shots on Goal—Montreal 6-12-10-1—29. Tampa Bay 11-10-10-3—34. Power-play opportunities—Montreal 1 of 3; Tampa Bay 1 of 4. Goalies—Montreal, Niemi 4-6-4 (34 shots-32 saves). Tampa Bay, Domingue 5-8-0 (29-27). A—19,092 (19,092). T—2:45. Referees—Steve Kozari, Kelly Sutherland. Linesmen—David Brisebois, Libor Suchanek.