The Montreal Canadiens looked at the positives following what could’ve been a disheartening 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Wednesday.
After vowing they would play much better than in their 5-1 loss in Game 1 on Monday, the Canadiens did exactly that. But despite controlling play for much of the game, particularly in a second period when they outshot the Lightning 16-7 but were outscored 2-1, the Canadiens couldn’t put more than one shot past Andrei Vasilevskiy and made enough mistakes to lose.
“I thought we played a pretty solid game all around, to be honest,” Canadiens captain Shea Weber said. “We did make a couple of mistakes that hurt us. They’re an opportunistic team that can make you pay, but definitely I thought we deserved a little bit better tonight.”
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Now Montreal heads home for Game 3 on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS) trailing the best-of-7 series and facing long odds. Teams that lose the first two games of a best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final are 5-46 (.098) winning the series. The last team to come back to win after losing the first two games was the Boston Bruins against the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
“Obviously, we don’t want the series to get away from us,” Canadiens center Nick Suzuki said. “You’ve got to win your home games. We’re going back home and play two games there and we have a good opportunity to bring a 2-2 series back here. So we know what’s at stake and we’ll be ready to go.”
After playing tentative at times in Game 1, the Canadiens were more aggressive from the start Wednesday and outshot the Lightning 13-6 in the first period. Montreal’s line of Tyler Toffoli, Suzuki and rookie Cole Caufield rebounded from being on the ice for three Tampa Bay goals in Game 1 with a strong Game 2 and generated good scoring chances in the period.
That continued after Anthony Cirelli gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead 6:40 into the second period on a wrist shot from the right point that went in off goalie Carey Price‘s blocker. Suzuki answered with a power-play goal on a backhand that deflected off Cirelli and Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh to tie it 1-1 at 10:36.
The Canadiens carried play over the remainder of the period until a costly neutral-zone turnover by center Phillip Danault led to Blake Coleman‘s back-breaking diving goal that gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead with 1.1 seconds remaining.
“I think we did much better playing our style of game and managing the puck,” said Canadiens assistant Luke Richardson, who has coached Montreal six straight games since Dominique Ducharme tested positive for COVID-19 on June 18. “It just slid off our stick, we missed stick on puck a couple times right at the end of the second. But I don’t think it took away from our momentum in the third. I thought the guys played real hard in the third.”
But Vasilevskiy, who made 42 saves, continued to frustrate the Canadiens, and Ondrej Palat capitalized on another turnover by defenseman Joel Edmundson behind the Montreal net by banking a shot in off Price to increase the lead to 3-1 with 4:18 remaining.
“They get a break at the end of the second, with [1.1] seconds left or whatever it is, and that’s a big momentum swing,” Canadiens forward Corey Perry said. “I thought we played well tonight. I thought we had a lot of great chances. We were skating. We were forechecking. We had the puck a lot of the night and if we continue to do that, we’ll keep wearing them down.”
That’s the Canadiens’ hope, that if they stick with what they did well in Game 2, they’ll score more and win Game 3. It’s an approach that’s served them well throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, particularly when they trailed the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 in the Stanley Cup First Round.
“We were down 3-1 and we stayed focused, stayed with our game plan, never changed, never did anything and continued to push,” Perry said. “It’s no different now. It doesn’t matter the first round, second round, third round, Final, whatever it is. You continue to play your game, continue to do the things that got you here, you’re going to be successful. I said it in the room. I said, ‘It’s fun. This is hockey. It’s fun. Enjoy it.’
“But the games are so minimal, they’re so close. We get one of those bounces next game, you never know what can happen.”