After being routed in Game 1, the Canadiens clearly showed in Game 2 that they belong in the Stanley Cup final. In fact, they were the better team for much of the game.
Trouble is, their stay in the NHL’s championship series might be a short one.
Montreal played about as well as you can against Tampa Bay, outworking and outskating the Lightning, frustrating their forecheck, limiting their time in the offensive zone and nearly doubling their shot total (43-23).
But Tampa Bay was more opportunistic — including the most spectacular goal of these playoffs — and had the best goaltender in the world (sorry, Marc-Andre Fleury, it’s not you) to back it up.
Have the Lightning ever needed Andrei Vasilevskiy more than they did Wednesday at Amalie Arena?
One night after he was robbed of the Vezina Trophy, Vasilevskiy stopped a season-high 42 of 43 shots as Tampa Bay stole Game 2 to take a two-game series lead. Teams that go ahead 2-0 in a best-of-seven Cup final have won more than 90 percent of the time.
Vasilevskiy stayed composed, positioned himself well, tracked pucks, used his size to cut down shooting angles, handled deflections and controlled rebounds while picking up his league-high 14th victory of the postseason.
He kept Tampa Bay in the game long enough for his teammates to score a few timely goals.
The Lightning call it “out-pro”ing their opponent: staying patient, showing resilience, finding a way to make a play when things aren’t going their way or they’re running on fumes.
Anthony Cirelli scored on his only shot. Blake Coleman netted the game-winner in the final second of the second period. Ondrej Palat put a Joel Edmundson mistake in the back of the Canadiens’ net.
It was enough.
Grade: Lightning, C-plus
Grade: Vasilevskiy, A-plus
Here’s how we graded the rest of the Lightning’s performance in Game 2:
Finding their footing
After doing a great job of managing the puck in Game 1, the Lightning lacked crispness with their passing and accuracy with their shooting in the first period Wednesday. Three giveaways in the period helped feed the Canadiens’ transition game, and they did a good job of using their speed to get pucks into the Lightning zone, not turning them over and getting them on net.
The second line of Nick Suzuki, Tyler Toffoli and Cole Caufield — victimized for three goals by the Brayden Point line in Game 1 — had seven of Montreal’s 13 shots in the period and most of their best scoring chances.
Fortunately for the Lightning, Vasilevskiy was sharp, poking the puck off Suzuki’s stick as he tried to go to the backhand on a breakaway, stopping Toffoli from the edge of the crease and then stopping Toffoli and Suzuki on consecutive odd-man breaks to keep the game scoreless.
With forward Alex Killorn out of the lineup, the Lightning were missing a big net-front presence who retrieves pucks, plays on the top power-play unit and is part of Tampa Bay’s penalty kill.
Fourth-line center Tyler Johnson moved up to the second line to take Killorn’s spot, and Mathieu Joseph stepped in on the fourth line.
It didn’t take Johnson long to make an impact, as he figured into Cirelli’s opening goal early in the second period.
Jan Rutta worked the puck down deep to Johnson, who passed it back up to the point, creating time and space for Cirelli, whose shot from just inside the blue line went through four players and under Carey Price’s right arm.
The cycle play started with Cirelli passing to a pinching Rutta from behind the net and ended with him celebrating with his teammates near the blue line.
Killorn would have been proud.
The Lightning were outshot 16-7 in the second period but emerged with a 2-1 lead thanks to the hustle of linemates Coleman and Barclay Goodrow.
After a heavy hit from Coleman on Phillip Danault in the neutral zone created a turnover, Goodrow chipped the puck past Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot at the blue line. He skated to the right faceoff dot and backhanded a pass across the slot to Coleman, who dove headfirst to beat Danault to the puck, batting it past Price with 1.1 seconds left in the period.
Tampa Bay, which was badly outplayed in the period, was lucky to take a lead into the third.
But Coleman’s goal? Sheer determination.
If Palat was surprised to find the puck on his stick, you never would have known from the poise he showed.
The Tampa Bay forward was in on the forecheck late in the third period when Edmundson tried to reverse the puck off the end boards from behind his own net to teammate Jeff Petry in the corner.
But the puck banked sharply off the boards to Palat at the side of the net, and he quickly shot it off Price’s skate and over the goal line to give the Lightning a 3-1 lead.
Bad break for Montreal, great reaction by Palat.
You might call it opportunistic.
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