There was a festive atmosphere at the Montreal Bell Center on Friday night as the Canadians took the ice for their first home game in the 1993 Stanley Cup final.
But the fun was quickly quelled by Tampa Bay Lightning, who jumped on the Canadiens on their way to a 6-3 win in Game 3. Lightning is now leading the series 3-0 and could win the Stanley Cup for the second consecutive season if they finish the review in Game 4 on Monday night.
There has been no move in the Stanley Cup final since 1998. The Canadians – who have a record 24 wins in the Stanley Cup – were last swept in the 2009 playoffs.
Even if you don’t sweep, the Bolts are now in a great position to repeat. In the history of the NHL that has put more than 100 years, there have been only four returns with 3: 0. The Pittsburgh Penguins 2016-17 are the last NHL team to repeat.
“Obviously what we did last year in the balloon (winning the 2020 Cup) was very special and you want to relive that moment,” Thunder defender Victor Hedman said. “But at the end of the day, we’re not there yet. We have to win another game, but we have obviously put ourselves in a good position. But the fourth (victory) is the hardest to get, but we will do everything necessary to win the next game …
“At the end of the day we have more work to do and we’re not happy until we’re done.”
Here’s how the Lightning pushed the Canadiens to the edge and moved one win away from their second consecutive championship:
Tampa is not wasting time
Lightning jumped to a 1-0 lead of just 1:52 in the game as a shot by defensive player Jan Rutte from the depths of the right wall eluded the hard-hitting Carey Price.
Things went from bad to worse for Montreal just minutes later, when the Bolts scored 2-0 at 3:27 on Hedman’s power-play goal with veteran Eric Staal in the penalty area due to a game delay. Tampi it was the second power-play hit in the series from their seventh attempt compared to what was a highly effective Habs killing penalty.
According to NBC, Hedman became the first player to score in all 12 months of the year – a byproduct of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the NHL schedule and the Lightning deep race in the past two seasons.
Montreal coach Dominique Ducharme – returned from the bench after quarantine after a positive test on COVID-19 – called a timeout after Hedman’s goal.
The Habs slightly repaired the ship, ending the period with a 17-12 lead in shots. They also reduced their deficit to 2-1 at 11:16 because striker Phillip Danault, who defended his jobs, scored his first playoff goal with a nice rush.
“They’re a great team. They take advantage of our every mistake,” Danault said postgame when asked about the rapid onset of Lightning. “Our mistakes are huge. We have to limit our mistakes. We have to do small shows. We just have to be better.”
The thunder struck twice
Unfortunately for the Canadians, the second period was almost identical to the first.
Nikita Kucherov returned Lightning to a two-goal lead of 1:40 in the second. Ondrej Palat received the primary assist as he pulled out Eric Cernak and added to Kucher, who saved his eighth playoff goal in the backhand.
Kucherov, who also took an assist on Hedman’s power-play goal, now has 32 points in 21 games in this playoff. According to ESPN statistics and information, Kucher is only the third player to score a combined 66 points in two consecutive seasons. The other two who have achieved this feat are Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.
Just like the first half, it only took a few moments for Tampa to score another goal.
This time, Tyler Johnson cashed in at 3:33 from the second leg, taking advantage of a lucky deflection from Mathieu Joseph’s rink.
Nick Suzuki reduced Tampa’s deficit late in the second half with a right-wing shot that leaked through Lightning goalkeeper Andrej Vasilevski.
Although he would probably like the goal he gave Suzuki, Vasilevskiy mostly stood high in the third half and finished the game with 32 saves.
Johnson effectively sealed the win with his second goal of the game, in a solo attempt, with less than five minutes left. He picked up a pass and then turned down the puck, Pricea in the jump, bringing Lightning to a 5-2 lead at 15:19.
“I know how fun it was last year when we won, so (I want to) do it again. You don’t know how many chances you’re going to get,” Johnson said. “Whenever you get so close, you really feel it.
“I think you wanted to win it even more last year because of winning (the Cup) and I think everyone feels that way somehow and we’re really excited. But there’s still a lot to do, we still have another game. We know the fourth is always the hardest and we will have to have a really good game. ”
Price finished with 24 saves in 29 shots, giving him five goals for the second time in the series.
“I can definitely play better,” Price said afterwards. “That’s not good enough so far.”
Canadiens striker Corey Perry provided an instant response 39 seconds later, patiently waiting for Vasilevsky before performing a sharp puck to reduce Habs’ deficit to two more.
The match, however, was sealed forever, when Lightning striker Blake Coleman scored an empty net goal at 4:48 p.m. to provide the final difference.
“We’ve overcome adversity throughout the season,” Price told Habs. “Our backs are obviously against the wall, so we’re going to have to start doing our best.”
Contribution: Associated Press