MONTREAL — The Tampa Bay Lightning weren’t going to let the Montreal Canadiens avenge their loss in the 2021 Stanley Cup final.
Exactly five months after lifting their second straight cup, Ondrej Palat scored a late winner with 38 seconds left to steal a 3-2 win from Montreal at the Bell Centre Tuesday night.
Tampa Bay (16-5-4) fell behind 2-1 after surrendering goals to Montreal’s Nick Suzuki and Mike Hoffman, but the thunder rolled and the Lightning struck late in the third period.
In his first game back in Montreal, Corey Perry levelled the score late in the third period after the Lightning had pulled Andrei Vasilevskiy. Palat nailed the final coffin with 38 seconds to complete the comeback.
“It wasn’t a perfect game but it’s two points on the road so I’ll take it,” Palat said. “(Alex Killorn) made the right play, it was a two-on-one and I scored. I thought we did a good job in the last ten minutes.
Head coach Jon Cooper said his team is in the middle of their toughest stretch of the season, with seven of eight games coming on the road. But instead of falling to the Eastern Conference’s bottom dwellers -- Montreal is now 6-18-3 -- the Bolts tied the game and bypassed overtime to claim a fourth straight win.
“It is a different group (from the 2020-21 season), but they are finding a way,” Cooper said. We've been in 10 overtime games already this year, we weren't at 10 all year last year. So I've got to give credit, they're finding ways to win.”
“If we can steal a couple like we did tonight we’re taking them and running and we’re off to Toronto. You have to get darn near 100 points in this league now to get in the playoffs.”
For Cooper, Perry’s has proved to be a worthy addition to Tampa’s roster. The winger lost to the Bolts in back-to-back finals but said that there was no animosity in him after he joined.
“He’s got an aura about him. When he walks in the room, he’s got a pedigree,” Cooper said. “To me, Corey Perry just makes sense. Everything that he says makes sense. There’s no fluff to him, there’s no BS, he tells it how it is in a way that ‘you know what, you’re right.’”
Cooper gave credit to general manager Julien BriseBois for adding players like Perry after losing assets to free agency and the expansion draft.
“They find their way and you try to put them in situations where they can succeed but they’re all team-first guys,” Cooper said. “I think Julien’s done a good job of finding players that just fit with what we’re doing and Corey is a perfect example of that and one of the guys leading the way.”
On the other side of the ice, the Canadiens barely had enough time to realize that two points had slipped away from them. Head coach Dominique Ducharme believed his team came out to play against the two-time champions and deserved the win but dropped the game in the final two minutes.
“It’s frustrating because we obviously deserved better,” Ducharme said. “Two plays at the end and they took advantage of the chances they had.”
“Having that result tonight, I thought it would’ve been a positive in the group.”
The Habs had yet another blow to their squad as Christian Dvorak left the game with a lower body injury. Ducharme said that Dvorak will undergo more tests on Wednesday.
“It seems like we lose a player or two every day,” Ducharme said. “And on a game like that where we play a solid game and they make the difference on two last plays.”
Patrick Maroon scored a first-period goal for Tampa Bay. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 21 saves.
Jake Allen stopped 24 of 27 shots for Montreal.
The Canadiens made an early mistake when Habs newcomer Kale Clague turned the puck over in front of his own net, giving Maroon an easy opportunity to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead in the first period.
Montreal levelled the score on the rush at 4:20 of the second period. Suzuki drove his team forwards and bagged his sixth goal of the season.
Hoffman scored the go-ahead goal, his first since Halloween. The winger’s shot from the top of the faceoff circle zoomed through the crowd of players and beat Vasilevskiy to put the Habs up 2-1.
Perry ruined the Habs’ party, tying the game 2-2 with 2:06 to go.
Palat then put the final nail in Montreal’s coffin with a game-winning goal at 19:22 of the third period, throwing yet another cold shower on Habs fans at the Bell Centre.
Tristan D’Amours, The Canadian Press