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MONTREAL — Hall of Famer Patrick Roy inspired Matt Tomkins to become a goalie when he was 10 years old. Carey Price, another Canadiens netminder, was his favorite goaltender growing up.
So it was all the more special when Tomkins earned his first NHL win Tuesday night in Montreal. Tomkins stopped 23 of 26 shots to help the Lightning to a 5-3 victory over the Canadiens.
“It’s a different feeling being in a building like this with all the history and everything that’s gone on with the organization over the many, many years. You feel a different energy in here,” Tomkins said. “So it was really exciting to get the opportunity to play here, and then obviously to get the win with the guys and get my first win was a day I’ll never forget.”
It was a long time coming for the 29-year-old.
A seventh-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2012, Tomkins started his professional career with Rockford of the AHL and Indy of the ECHL. He played in the Swedish Hockey League last season before signing a two-year, two-way contract with the Lightning in May.
“He’s such a grounded kid, and the fact he’s kept his dream alive all these years should be an inspiration to a lot of people, to a lot of kids growing up, to see his dream come true,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
“And I truly believe it was probably meant to be the way it played out for him to get to play in the hallowed ground of Montreal. There is no better place to come in as a visiting team and play here, so to have that under your belt that nobody can take that away from you, that’s pretty cool.”
Tomkins, who did not allow a goal over the first two periods, said his teammates might have wanted the win for him even more than he did.
Nick Paul scored twice, Nikita Kucherov had a goal and an assist, and Alex Barre-Boulet and Mikey Eyssimont also had goals for Tampa Bay (6-3-4), which stormed to a 4-0, first-period lead.
Unlike in Monday’s 6-5 overtime loss in Toronto, Tampa Bay held on to it.
“There was desperation to our game,” Cooper said. “We were in our meal room (Tuesday), and I think from breakfast to lunch we must have watched the highlights of the game on the big screen 30 times. So, it was etched in the boys’ heads what happened (Monday) night. We didn’t need to show any of it.”
Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen allowed four goals on nine shots before getting the hook 13 minutes, 50 seconds into the game. Samuel Montembeault stopped 22 of 23 shots the rest of the way.
Before some fans could take their seats, Kucherov opened the scoring with an effortless wrist shot over Allen’s right shoulder 22 seconds into the game for his 10th goal of the season.
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Paul snuck in behind Canadiens defenseman Mike Matheson and tapped home a juicy rebound off a Steven Stamkos shot to make it 2-0 at 7:15 of the first.
Barre-Boulet, of Montmagny, Quebec, scored 1:54 later after Canadiens forward Juraj Slafkovsky took a holding penalty, finishing off a tic-tac-toe sequence on the power play in front of family and friends in the crowd.
Eyssimont added to Tampa Bay’s advantage with a short-side shot that trickled through to make it 4-0 with 6:10 left in the first — and that was it for Allen.
The Canadiens then did their best to cut the Lightning lead, much like the Maple Leafs had done Monday. But Tomkins made a couple saves during a scramble in front with Tampa Bay on the penalty kill to keep his shutout bid alive in the third.
Nick Suzuki finally broke through at 6:50 of the period with a one-timer off a centering feed from Cole Caufield to get Montreal on the board with a power-play goal.
Michael Pezzetta made it 4-2 just 34 seconds later by jamming the puck under Tomkins’ pad to bring the home crowd to life.
Paul then scored his second of the night with just over two minutes left to put the game out of reach.
“He’s been fantastic,” Cooper said. “He’s a big body, but I think he’s always had underrated stick skills. People haven’t given him enough credit how he can handle the puck, and he really helps us get in on the breakout.
“That was something Alex Killorn did really well was help us get in the zone, and Paulie just picked up where (Killorn) left off. He’s got great instincts down there when he gets in the front, and that’s a big guy you have to look around. So, he’s been a big part of why the power play is humming the way it is.”
In the end, the night belonged to Tomkins, who is just getting started, despite his late entry into the NHL.
“He’s just growing,” Cooper said. “I’ve been watching this kid grow at 29 years old into that, and wow. It was just great to be a part of that.”
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