Fueled by three power-play goals, Tampa Bay finished the second period of Game 2 with a 4-1 lead over Montreal en route to a 6-2 win. Yet it was the lone even-strength goal by the Lightning during that early stretch Sunday that revealed the most about the Canadiens’ challenges in this series now that they have lost both home games and seven straight head-to-head matchups.
The play starts when the Canadiens’ Torrey Mitchell beats Steven Stamkos on the faceoff in the defensive zone and Montreal defenseman Tom Gilbert chips it out of the Habs’ end. The puck finds Montreal forward Brandon Prust, but Prust misses Mitchell on a pass in the neutral zone, giving Tampa Bay a chance to regroup. Look for a theme here. The sequence illuminates how Tampa Bay exploits the Canadiens’ dependence on counterattacks and area passes to create offense. Montreal’s high-risk game plan allows a puck-savvy team like Tampa Bay ample time and opportunity to recalibrate and find gaps in its opponent’s defense.
With the puck in the neutral zone, Jason Garrison and Braydon Coburn, Tampa Bay’s defensemen, initiate a reset, but attempts to Ryan Callahan and Alex Killorn fail. Thanks to Killorn’s flub on a pass, Prust regains possession of the puck, but the Montreal forward immediately surrenders it to Garrison. Once again, Tampa Bay tries to regroup, but once again, the puck finds Prust. Right on cue, the Habs’ forward dumps the puck in allowing Tampa Bay to reclaim possession.
After an ugly breakout that needs some assistance from goaltender Ben Bishop, Callahan fights off pressure from P.A. Parenteau, Montreal’s third forward, and passes the puck to the weak side for Garrison. Garrison tries to headman the puck to Stamkos but misses the center. This is choppy hockey, but the constant is that the puck never remains in Montreal’s possession for long.
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After Garrison relinquishes the puck, Habs defenseman Gilbert is guilty of the fatal turnover. Killorn intercepts Gilbert’s pass that was directed through the middle of the neutral zone and kicks it back to the Bolts defensemen for yet another regroup.
Bizarrely, while it is 50 seconds into the sequence, not all of Montreal’s depth players have changed. Parenteau heads to the bench to take a rest and suddenly the math shifts to a 5-on-4 for Tampa Bay. The Bolts love to use the stretch pass and their five skaters are primed for a quick counter on the reset. Moreover, Gilbert is still on the ice, but off-kilter because he has one eye on Killorn.
Additionally, Montreal center Tomas Plekanec, fresh off the bench, is a step behind Stamkos. Stammer decides that, before he goes for a change, he might try to curl toward center and sprint up the gut to see if he can exploit Montreal’s haphazard line change. Garrison’s pass finds just enough daylight to fall into Stammer’s radius. Stamkos carries it in on the breakaway and pulls a nice forehand-backhand-forehand deke on goaltender Carey Price.
This play was notable for a few reasons. As sloppy as the Stamkos line played for the majority of its shift, Montreal’s energy players continued to concede the puck and give a speedy and skilled group of skaters opportunity after opportunity to control possession, reset, and try to enter the offensive zone with speed. That is way too risky. Also, the shift for Montreal’s bottom-six forwards lasted almost as long as that of Tampa Bay’s top-six forwards, and that can’t happen. Finally, the Canadiens forfeited possession a half-dozen times in this sequence. Tampa Bay might match its opponent in ugly play, but Montreal was too often chasing the puck in this chain of events, and that cost the Canadiens a crucial goal.