TAMPA — Wednesday didn't begin well for the Lightning, with its most experienced player, Valtteri Filppula, benched for missing a morning meeting.
"An extremely hard decision," coach Jon Cooper said.
Things didn't get much easier for Tampa Bay, which trailed by two goals in the third period against the best goalie in the world, the Canadiens' Carey Price. But led by its best players, the Lightning found a way to get a 4-3 overtime win to open a crucial five-game homestand in front of 19,092 at Amalie Arena.
"A big boost," defenseman Victor Hedman said.
The Lightning's Triplets line, reunited with Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov returning from injuries to join Tyler Johnson, combined for six points. Palat scored the tying goal with three minutes left in regulation, and Johnson got the winner 96 seconds into overtime.
"That was as good as I've seen them play this year," Cooper said. "You need the guys that have come through for you before in the past to come through for you. And when you're short as our lineup is up front, they came through for us. They've done it time and time again. Hopefully this just jump-starts them."
The Lightning (18-15-3) pulled within one point of third-place Boston in the Atlantic Division.
It didn't look good early in the game for Tampa Bay, which gave up the first goal for the 23rd time in 36 games.
Johnson tied the score at 1 midway through the first, finishing off a tic-tac-toe play by Palat and Kucherov. But the Canadiens regained the lead three minutes later on a power-play goal by Shea Weber. The Lightning trailed 3-1 entering the third, but it wasn't defeated.
"Just keep plugging away," Johnson said. "We were getting opportunities; we were playing the right way. Just a matter of putting (pucks) in. Luckily for us, we got a few at the end."
The Lightning pulled within one with 8:46 left on a goal by Hedman, set up by the second assist of the night by Kucherov.
"Once we got that one, we grew a little bit on the bench," Cooper said.
Palat then tied it with just under three minutes to go on a power-play goal, using Brian Boyle as a screen. He nearly won it in overtime on an odd-man rush, but Price made the save. But Price couldn't stop Johnson's shot soon after.
"Big-time shot," Cooper said.
Cooper said Filppula would be back in the lineup tonight against Toronto, but the Lightning could need another couple of callups. Forwards Vladislav Namestnikov and Brayden Point didn't finish the game. They were going to be re-evaluated.
But for now, this one felt good for the Lightning.
"It's a great atmosphere, lot of fun to play in," Hedman said. "This is playoff time for us. We're on the outside looking in. A big two points."
Led by the team's big guns.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes-JSmith.
First Period—1, Montreal, Radulov 7 (Byron), 3:24. 2, Tampa Bay, Johnson 10 (Kucherov, Palat), 10:39. 3, Montreal, Weber 9 (Pacioretty, Byron), 13:31 (pp). Penalties—Hedman, TB, (holding), 13:23.
Second Period—4, Montreal, Terry 2 (Carr, Mccarron), 3:07. Penalties—Barberio, MTL, (tripping), 16:59.
Third Period—5, Tampa Bay, Hedman 7 (Kucherov), 11:14. 6, Tampa Bay, Palat 5 (Hedman, Point), 16:30 (pp). Penalties—Radulov, MTL, (slashing), 6:59; Weber, MTL, (tripping), 15:19; Tampa Bay bench, served by Kucherov (too many men on the ice), 17:14.
OT—7, Tampa Bay, Johnson 11 (Garrison, Vasilevskiy), 1:36. Penalties—None. SOG—Montreal 8-8-6—22. Tampa Bay 7-13-8-2—30. PP opps—Montreal 1 of 2; Tampa Bay 1 of 3. Goalies—Montreal, Price 18-5-3 (30 shots-26 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 9-5-1 (22-19).