MONTREAL — The Lightning entered its three-game road trip in Canada with a lot of momentum and hope.
It had won three in a row at home and had a chance to make up ground in the Eastern Conference against teams that were tied or ahead of the Lightning in postseason positioning.
But it all went for naught. Tampa Bay dropped its third consecutive game, 3-1 to the Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Saturday night. The deflating defeat dropped the Lightning (17-20-3) to nine points out of the final playoff spot as it reached the midseason point.
"It's hard," goalie Mathieu Garon said. "We came on this trip, we wanted to get points, and the last two games we played decent hockey (the other was Thursday's 4-1 loss to the Senators), but we didn't get any."
The Lightning's second-period lapse Saturday cost it dearly.
Tampa Bay had gotten off to a strong start, including Vinny Lecavalier's goal just more than three minutes in. But Lecavalier said there seemed to be a momentum shift in the second period.
"It just seemed like we were making the same mistakes," Lecavalier said. "We weren't the team that we wanted to be."
The Canadiens took advantage, scoring twice in 1:33 early in the period, and they could have had more goals in the period if two hadn't been waived.
Wing Mike Blunden tied the score at 1 when, positioned near the crease, he corralled a shot from the point and backhanded it under the glove of Garon. Then, after Montreal goalie Carey Price made a momentum-swinging save on Marty St. Louis, Canadiens wing Max Pacioretty got behind the Lightning defense and ripped a shot from the right circle past Garon for a 2-1 lead.
Said Garon, "It seems like we do it every game. Every time we give up a goal, it seems like after that, we're vulnerable for a second one."
Defenseman Eric Brewer said the overall team defense needs to be better.
"Everything we give up is going in right now," Brewer said. "We're not giving up a ton of chances, we're giving up really good chances, not helping out goalies enough. And we're not scoring. It's not a very good combo."
When Lecavalier put the puck in the net right after the second-period buzzer sounded, Boucher quipped, "it sums up pretty much what's been happening."
The Lightning applied third-period pressure, but no matter the line combination, it couldn't crack Price. It continued its puzzling futility on the power play, failing on its lone attempt to make it 1-for-34 with the extra man in its past 10 road games. Montreal added a power-play goal with 17 seconds left.
"That's the NHL," Boucher said. "If you don't play 60 minutes, it doesn't matter who you are. It's not coming your way."
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 15 (Moore, Brewer), 3:24. Penalties—Tyrell, TB (holding), 17:59.
Second Period—2, Montreal, Blunden 1 (Gill, Darche), 5:44. 3, Montreal, Pacioretty 12 (Subban), 7:17. Penalties—Plekanec, Mon (high-sticking), 1:57.
Third Period—4, Montreal, Cole 17 (Desharnais, Pacioretty), 19:43 (pp). Penalties—Bergeron, TB (hooking), 19:30. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 8-9-7—24. Montreal 7-12-9—28. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 1; Montreal 1 of 2. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Garon 11-11-2 (28 shots-25 saves). Montreal, Price 15-14-7 (24-23).