TAMPA — For Lightning rookie goaltender Cedrick Desjardins, the opponent for his long-awaited NHL debut couldn't have been more fitting.
Desjardins, 25, started Thursday night in a showdown with the Canadiens, an organization with which he spent four years without getting called up. His father, Donald, in town from New Brunswick, expected his son to be "very motivated."
What Desjardins didn't expect was how his first start would begin. He gave up a goal on the first shot he faced, 58 seconds in. But the Lightning wasn't surprised with how Desjardins bounced back, racking up 27 saves in a 4-1 win in front of 20,191 at the sold-out St. Pete Times Forum.
"It's kind of a Hollywood scenario to have played them in my first game," Desjardins said.
Steven Stamkos gave Desjardins a hand, scoring two goals and totaling four points. But, he said, "(Desjardins) is our player of the game for sure."
The win moved the Lightning into first in the Southeast Division. Tampa Bay and the Capitals have 49 points, but the Lightning has played one fewer game.
Stamkos said not many young goalies would have responded like Desjardins did after a rocky start. Montreal wing Max Pacioretty's shot deflected off a skate into the net for the goal.
Desjardins said he stayed humble and fought after the goal. Lightning coach Guy Boucher, his coach in juniors who saw him win championships at several levels, wasn't surprised: "The one thing that characterizes this guy is that he'll shut the door. So that (goal) didn't really scare me. That's probably the thing he does best. He'll let in one sometimes that you might not like, just like every goalie, but he has a tendency to shut it. I think that's what he did."
Boucher said he wavered about whether to start Desjardins, not because he didn't have confidence in the goalie, but because he knew how emotionally charged the game would be for him. So Boucher didn't tell Desjardins he was starting until Thursday afternoon, so he could sleep the night before.
After the goal, Desjardins made some big first-period saves to keep the Lightning (22-11-5) in the game. In the second, the Canadiens were called for too many men on the ice twice in less than a minute, and Tampa Bay took advantage of a five-on-three power play with a goal by Marty St. Louis.
The Lightning got a favorable bounce of its own to get the go-ahead goal with about eight minutes left in the second. Defenseman Pavel Kubina sent the puck from the back boards to the crease, where it hit Stamkos and went in. Kubina got credit for the goal.
Stamkos got his two in the third, including on a highlight-reel penalty shot against the Canadiens' Carey Price.
After the final horn sounded, Desjardins reflected on his journey and the people who helped him along the way. Several were in the stands, including his father and fiancee, Marie Pier, to whom he tried to toss the game puck.
"Montreal gave me my chance at 20 years old, and I'll always be respectful for that," Desjardins said. "And (Thursday) is a day I won't forget."
First Period—1, Montreal, Pacioretty 2 (Gomez), :58. Penalties—Ohlund, TB (hooking), 3:35; Hamrlik, Mon (delay of game), 7:21; Clark, TB (hooking), 7:28; B.Pouliot, Mon (hooking), 9:54.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 16 (Lecavalier, Stamkos), 2:48 (pp). 3, Tampa Bay, Kubina 2 (St. Louis, Stamkos), 12:31. Penalties—Montreal bench, served by Darche (too many men), 1:50; Montreal bench, served by Lapierre (too many men), 2:35; Eller, Mon (hooking), 14:17; Gagne, TB (interference), 16:46.
Third Period—4, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 30 (penalty shot), 1:46. 5, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 31 (Malone, Hedman), 4:40. Penalties—Tampa Bay bench, served by Malone (too many men), 9:53; Malone, TB (goaltender interference), 12:38; Hamrlik, Mon (interference), 18:13. Shots on Goal—Montreal 8-5-15—28. Tampa Bay 6-8-9—23. Power-play opportunities—Montreal 0 of 5; Tampa Bay 1 of 6. Goalies—Montreal, Price 19-14-2 (20 shots-16 saves), Auld (12:10 third, 3-3). Tampa Bay, Desjardins 1-0-0 (28-27).