TAMPA — As the final horn sounded Tuesday night, goalie Ben Bishop turned in his crease toward the electric sellout crowd at Amalie Arena.
Bishop lifted his arms, as if the 19,204 in attendance needed another jolt, seemingly looking like a huge weight was lifted off his shoulders.
"They wanted it just as bad as we did," he said.
It took longer than expected, but the Lightning finally finished off the Canadiens with a dominating 4-1 victory in Game 6, advancing to the Eastern Conference final for the first time since 2011. After two failed attempts to eliminate Montreal — and desperately not wanting to head back there again — the Lightning called this its Game 7, delivering arguably its best performance of a roller-coaster postseason. Tampa Bay awaits the winner of tonight's Game 7 between the Rangers and Capitals (7:30, NBCSN) before opening the third round Saturday. Tickets for the East final go on sale Thursday at 10 a.m.
"It's a confidence booster," captain Steven Stamkos said. "We've gone through a lot of ups and downs so far, some difficult situations where maybe you tuck your tail in and hide. But we've risen to that occasion.
"We've got to believe that anything is possible here."
Tampa Bay is certainly battle tested, having had to overcome a 3-2 series deficit in the first round against the Red Wings. Then, after taking a 3-0 lead against Montreal, it dropped two straight.
"Everyone kind of said, 'Tampa is in trouble now,'" coach Jon Cooper said.
But Cooper felt a calm after the Game 5 loss, saying he "knew the guys were going to roll." The Lightning rallied around veteran wing Ryan Callahan, who had an emergency appendectomy Monday night. Stamkos said Callahan's name was written on the locker room board.
"A little inspiration," Stamkos said. "Guys stepped up."
The Lightning's biggest stars shined the brightest. Bishop was brilliant, like he was in a Game 7 shutout against Detroit, outplaying MVP finalist Carey Price a final time.
"The longer a series goes on," Cooper said, "it seems Ben gets better and better and better."
Stamkos was flying, scoring his third goal of the playoffs in vintage fashion, ripping a rocket wrist shot into the top corner.
"When he scored that, he really took off," Bishop said.
The Triplets, the Lightning's top line all season, took over, with Nikita Kucherov scoring twice and Ondrej Palat adding another.
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said Montreal was mentally and physically drained. And the Lightning, having learned from getting swept by Montreal in last year's first round, got revenge.
"They obviously deserved that game," wing Max Pacioretty said. "And the series as well."
With Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban saying earlier in the series that Bishop was "sitting on a horseshoe," the beneficiary of luck, the Lightning goaltender playfully put a picture of one on the seat of his locker stall.
Bishop smiled: "Thank goodness for my lucky horseshoe."
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Contact Joe Smith at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 5 (Palat), 15:35. Penalties—Subban, Mon (delay of game), 16:52.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 3 (Killorn, Carle), 5:12. 3, Tampa Bay, Palat 3 (Kucherov, Stralman), 18:56 (pp). Penalties—Sustr, TB (slashing), 16:05; Smith-Pelly, Mon (holding), 18:38.
Third Period—4, Montreal, Pacioretty 5 (Gallagher), 15:03. 5, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 6, 17:59 (en). Penalties—Morrow, TB (elbowing), :17. Shots on Goal—Montreal 6-7-6—19. Tampa Bay 13-8-7—28. Power-play opportunities—Montreal 0 of 2; Tampa Bay 1 of 2. Goalies—Montreal, Price 6-6-0 (27 shots-24 saves). Tampa Bay, Bishop 8-5-0 (19-18). A—19,204 (19,204). T—2:32.