Lightning captain Steven Stamkos wasn’t kidding when he said the fourth win is the toughest to get.
Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final Monday in Montreal was rough for Tampa Bay in every way.
The Canadiens put heavy hits on Lightning stars Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov at every turn. Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman inadvertently added to the pain, clipping Point with a blast from the point in the second period.
The Lightning had to play from behind for the first time in the series.
They were held scoreless on five power-play opportunities, including a four-minute double-minor that stretched from the final minute of regulation into the first few minutes of overtime.
They hit three posts, including one with the game on the line late in regulation.
They lost in gut-wrenching fashion, tying the game late in the third period only to squander their best opportunities to win before allowing Josh Anderson’s decisive goal less than four minutes into overtime.
Oh, and they wasted the first of four chances to clinch a second straight Stanley Cup.
Instead of championship celebrations on the ice at Bell Centre and at a watch party at Amalie Arena, the Cup was packed up and sent to Tampa, where the Lightning hope to raise it after Game 5 on Wednesday.
Well, at least Tampa Mayor Jane Castor will be happy.
Here’s how we graded the rest of the Lightning’s performance in their 3-2 loss in Game 4:
The first period saw the Lightning face their first deficit of the series.
Though it dominated the first 15 minutes of the period, outshot Montreal 12-5 and had the only power play of the frame, Tampa Bay trailed 1-0 on Josh Anderson’s goal with 4:21 remaining.
Anderson one-timed Nick Suzuki’s backhand pass from below the goal line past goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Oddly, the play started with Brett Kulak failing to keep the puck in the zone at the left point. But Kulak recovered the puck in the neutral zone with Anthony Cirelli in hot pursuit and passed it along the boards up to Suzuki, who worked a give-and-go with Cole Caufield. As Caufield tied up Erik Cernak in front of the net, Suzuki found Anderson open in the slot.
The Lightning had several chances on the power play in the period, the best of which was Kucherov’s shot off the post, but couldn’t put the puck behind Carey Price.
Tampa Bay fell to 0-5 this postseason when allowing the first goal.
The Canadiens made it clear from the start they were targeting the Lightning’s top offensive stars, and they had Point and Kucherov squarely in their sights.
So when it needed a tying goal in late in the second period, Tampa Bay turned to two sources that had been so big for it earlier in the series: its third line and its defense.
It wasn’t as dramatic as linemate Blake Coleman’s diving goal in the final second of the second period of Game 2, but Barclay Goodrow’s goal with 2:40 to play in the period tied the score at 1.
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh made the goal possible, deflecting Jeff Petry’s clearing attempt at the left point to Coleman, then going to the net. Coleman shot from above the right circle, and McDonagh pounced on the rebound, backhanding it to Goodrow, who pushed it past Price from low in the slot.
Great finish. Even better setup.
Six in the box
A scuffle that looked so many others we’ve seen in these playoffs took an unusual turn when the Lightning’s Goodrow, Coleman and Yanni Gourde and Canadiens’ Anderson, Petry and Ben Chiarot were sent off for roughing about eight minutes into the third period.
It meant Tampa Bay would have to play without its entire third line and Montreal without two of its top defensemen for two minutes and then wait for the next stoppage in play before they could return to the ice.
Both teams scored in the interim, Alexander Romanov giving Montreal a 2-1 lead with 11:12 remaining and Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon tying the score exactly five minutes later.
By then, the six players had missed more than six minutes of game time.
Grade: H, for huh?
A Lightning team that seemed to be fighting an uphill battle throughout the game appeared to get the break it needed when Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber received a four-minute high-sticking penalty with just over a minute remaining in regulation. Trying to lift Ondrej Palat’s stick after a faceoff, Weber got his stick up under Palat’s visor, drawing blood.
The Lightning couldn’t score in the final 1:01 of regulation but still had 2:59 remaining with the man-advantage at the start of overtime. It didn’t matter. Stamkos lost the opening faceoff, and the Canadiens got the puck deep into the Lightning zone.
Tampa Bay spent much of the rest of the power play struggling to get into the offensive zone and nearly gave up the winning goal when Hedman lost his footing at the center point and Phillip Danault won a race to the puck. He passed from the left circle to Nick Suzuki in the slot, and only Vasilevskiy’s right pad save kept the game from ending right there.
It only delayed the agony.
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