MONTREAL — One by one Saturday night, Antero Niittymaki's teammates came by to pay tribute.
The Lightning goaltender was splendid with 36 saves in Tampa Bay's 3-1 victory over the Canadiens at the Bell Centre, including 30 in the last two periods.
So, pats on the back were required as Niittymaki sat in the locker room.
"He played great," center Vinny Lecavalier said.
"Really solid," coach Rick Tocchet said. "He's seeing the puck, and he's square, and he's really giving us a chance to win."
The Lightning (6-4-3) got several high-level contributions.
Alex Tanguay, in his first game in Montreal since leaving to sign with Tampa Bay, had a goal and an assist, as did Ryan Malone.
Lecavalier had two assists, and rookie James Wright scored an enormous goal with 1:59 left in the second period to restore a two-goal lead defended until the end.
It was a satisfying finish to a 2-1-1 road trip that netted five of a possible eight points after starting so badly with a 6-2 loss in Philadelphia. And for whatever it is worth so early in the season, Tampa Bay, with 17 points, jumped to seventh in the East. The top eight make the playoffs.
"It is big," Lecavalier said. "You always want to try to stay above that line."
For that, they can thank Niittymaki, who entered 1-8-1 against Montreal but elevated his game in the second and third periods, when the Lightning was outshot 30-11, including 15-4 in the third.
That was after Tampa Bay had jumped to a 2-0 first-period lead on Malone's goal, his 10th, on the power play and Tanguay's third, his second in as many games.
Thereafter, the Canadiens and their fleet wings pushed the play. The Lightning, which ended up being outshot 37-21, had trouble countering and several times was pinned in the defensive zone. But Niittymaki, 2-0-2 in his past five games with a 1.48 goals-against average .956 save percentage, was solid.
"He's moving so well inside his crease, it makes it difficult for a guy to beat him," Tanguay said. "When you have a goalie who is hot like that, he's going to win you games."
"Actually, the first period I wasn't seeing the puck that well," Niittymaki said. "But you get a couple of saves and you feel a little better and you get on track."
A big one came 55 seconds into the second period when he went spread eagle to stop Mike Cammalleri at the right side of the net. A bigger one came with 8:49 left in the second when he stopped Brian Gionta's re-direct to preserve a 2-1 lead.
"We bent a little but didn't break," Malone said, "and Niitty was there for the big stops when he had to be."
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Malone 10 (St. Louis, Lecavalier), 10:09 (pp). 2, Tampa Bay, Tanguay 3 (Malone, Lecavalier), 19:13. Penalties—Spacek, Mon (high-sticking), 9:30.
Second Period—3, Montreal, Gionta 7 (Spacek, Gomez), 9:44 (pp). 4, Tampa Bay, Wright 2 (Tanguay, Halpern), 18:01. Penalties—Konopka, TB (tripping), 8:59; Lecavalier, TB (roughing), 10:05; Mara, Mon (tripping), 10:05; Gorges, Mon (tripping), 11:22.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Mara, Mon (holding), 16:30. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 10-7-4—21. Montreal 7-15-15—37. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 3; Montreal 1 of 1. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Niittymaki 4-1-2 (37 shots-36 saves). Montreal, Price 3-7-0 (21-18). A—21,273 (21,273).