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Back to Montreal? Pressure's on, Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop reacts following a goal by Montreal Canadiens' P.A. Parenteau during third period of Game 5 of a second-round NHL Stanley Cup hockey playoff series Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT PCH114
Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop reacts following a goal by Montreal Canadiens' P.A. Parenteau during third period of Game 5 of a second-round NHL Stanley Cup hockey playoff series Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT PCH114
Published May 10, 2015

MONTREAL

The Lightning skated off the ice, heads down, dejected, eyes to the ground. The Bell Centre crowd, going insane, left the Lightning's ears ringing and its heads splitting.

As the Lightning stepped off the white sheet and down the tunnel toward the locker room, it surely had one thought in its mind: No way we want to come back here again.

That means the Lightning's hopes of moving on to the next round, its dream of a Stanley Cup and, more critically, everything it has accomplished this season will be on the line in Game 6 Tuesday night at Amalie Arena.

That is the Lightning's game of the year after Saturday night's 2-1 loss in Game 5 — a loss that really wasn't all that surprising but was nonetheless heartbreaking. Montreal scored with only 4:07 left to snap a 1-1 tie and send this series back to Tampa Bay.

A comfy 3-0 series lead has dwindled to a 3-2 pressure cooker.

"We put ourselves in this position," defenseman Anton Stralman said. "We definitely want to finish it off."

The Lightning better do so Tuesday.

Technically, it still has two more chances to close out this series. It can do it Tuesday or, if it loses that game, it has one last chance back in Montreal on Thursday.

But come on. If the Lightning loses Game 6, it will have lost three in a row for the first time all season. It will be precariously close to being just the fifth team in Stanley Cup history to blow a 3-0 series lead. All that talk will have the Canadiens surging and the Lightning sick to its stomach.

Do you honestly believe the Lightning would then be able to get back on a plane, fly to Montreal and pull out a winner-take-all Game 7? At the Bell Centre? With those crazy fans? Against goalie Carey Price? With all those Stanley Cup banners hanging from the rafters? With the hockey world watching and wondering if you're about to go down as one of the biggest chokers in hockey history?

Not a chance.

When it comes to the Lightning, Tuesday's Game 6 might as well be a Game 7.

"Nobody said it was going to be easy," Stralman said. "We have home ice. It's obviously a big game for us."

More like must-win.

It's true the Lightning kept its season alive in the last round with a critical Game 6 victory at Detroit before returning home and winning Game 7. But that was last round and that was the Red Wings. The Lightning was way better than Detroit. That series had no business going seven games.

This round, it's the Canadiens, a team every bit as good as Tampa Bay. Maybe better. Despite the Lightning's domination of Montreal during the regular season, the Canadiens had a better record. They, too, have won a playoff series. And they have a world-class goalie who suddenly looks unbeatable.

If you're the Lightning, that's what really has you shaking in your skates. The Lightning must strain to even see the net behind Carey Price. He made two saves Saturday — one on Brenden Morrow and another on Valtteri Filppula — that can get into a team's head. The fear for Tampa Bay now is that Price, who is clearly capable of stealing a series by himself, will do exactly that.

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But as good as Price was Saturday, he really didn't need to be spectacular. Again, the Lightning failed to put together a complete game. Tampa Bay was good in spurts, but it's not as if it lost a game it should have won.

Despite giving up a goal midway through the third to Steven Stamkos that tied the score, the Canadiens deserved to win and the score would have been much more lopsided had all the pucks that hit posts and crossbars counted as goals.

"We knew these guys weren't going to roll over," Lightning goalie Ben Bishop said. "We played a little better (than Game 4), but we didn't play a full 60 minutes."

Bishop was solid, but couldn't overcome a couple of mistakes by defenseman Matt Carle. A bad pass by Carle led to the Canadiens' first goal in the first period. On the winner, a Stamkos turnover resulted in a goal when Carle accidently screened Bishop.

Carle owned up to his mistakes, then added, "It doesn't matter what has happened in the past. Everybody has got to move forward now and get ready for Game 6."

The Lightning will try to convince itself over the next two days that everything is just fine. The echo in the locker room after the game was predictable and variations on the theme that if someone told the Lightning it would be up 3-2 with a chance to close out the series at home, the team would gladly take it.

Maybe that is true. But the Canadiens have sayings of their own. They will talk about how the Game 6 pressure is now on Tampa Bay. And you know what? They will be absolutely right.

All the pressure is on Tampa Bay in Game 6. Its season is on the line. A loss Tuesday night and the Bolts have to play the Canadiens one more time. In Montreal. At the Bell Centre. Before those passionate fans and that all-world goalie.

And you know they don't want to do that.

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