It ain’t over just yet.
The Montreal Canadiens avoided a series sweep in the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 in overtime in Game 4. Josh Anderson bookended the scoring in the game, scoring first and then scoring in overtime to force a Game 5 in Tampa Bay on Wednesday night.
Alexander Romanov scored the other Montreal goal after being inserted into the lineup for the first time in the Stanley Cup Final, while Barclay Goodrow and Patrick Maroon had the markers for Tampa Bay.
Carey Price had 32 stops for his first Stanley Cup Final victory, while Andrei Vasilevskiy was beaten three times on 21 shots.
Here’s what happened in Game 4:
It’s been one of the main reasons the Canadiens made the Stanley Cup Final, and it’s the reason they will continue on in said Stanley Cup Final.
Montreal’s penalty kill delivered with the season on the line — and without arguably its most important player — surviving a four-minute Tampa Bay power play that extended over three minutes into overtime when Shea Weber took a high-sticking major late in regulation. It seemed certain that the Lightning, who have boasted the best power play in the league for many seasons, would use the three minutes to start overtime to deliver the decisive, championship-winning strike through either Steven Stamkos or Nikita Kucherov on opposite flanks.
Instead, the Stamkos and Kucherov-led top unit failed to even establish the zone with the first minute. And when they jumped back on the ice later on, the best chance belonged to Montreal, with Nick Suzuki being robbed by Vasilevskiy on a cross-ice feed following a Victor Hedman turnover. Tampa Bay was able to produce several decent looks after wasting the first half of the power play and nearly losing the game, but a lack of urgency, and the normal creativity and danger that the Tampa Bay power play normally produces, was stymied. Ben Chiarot and Joel Edmundson deserve loads of credit for the job, and probably the best steak one can find in Montreal from their captain. The two defensive experts did not leave the ice for the entire overtime kill, logging three minutes and 20 second apiece to start the bonus frame.
Together with a rotation of five forwards, who won faceoffs, battles, and stretched the defence in those three minutes, Montreal’s vaunted penally kill, which had already thwarted its 50th power play in the postseason earlier in the night, prolonged the Canadiens’ season.
Desperate for something to change, Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme made sweeping lineup changes for Game 4. On the forwards side only the fourth line remained in tact. Tyler Toffoli was shifted to the top line, Josh Anderson upgraded to the second line, and Jake Evans was inserted into the third-line centre position over the scratched Jesperi Kotkaniemi, as Ducharme looked to transfer shutdown duties away from his No. 1 line and onto the unit anchored by Evans.
The movement created an entirely different dynamic from what we saw in the first three games, and what stood out the most, did for reasons both good and bad.
The most important moments seemed to follow Anderson on the second line with Suzuki and Cole Caufield, and a matchup with Tampa Bay’s third line of Yanni Gourde, Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman. Anderson delivered Montreal’s first lead of the entire series on his late first-period marker set up by Suzuki. That was answered in the third when Anderson, Suzuki and Caufield were too quick to exit the zone, and Goodrow scored on a smart pinch and set-up from Ryan McDonagh. Suzuki and Caufield were once again caught out on the second Lightning goal, but the newly-formed Canadiens’ second line was able to erase that as well, and win the game, when Anderson stole the puck from Gourde, carried it the length of the ice, fed Caufield for a chance, and shovelled in the rebound in overtime.
The Lightning third line, which has been outstanding all postseason long, dominated the matchup on the spreadsheet versus Anderson, Suzuki and Caufield, reducing the primary opponent to some horrific possession numbers. That will have to be considered in the preparations for Game 5, but the formation of that line created the meaningful moments in attack that Montreal had been lacking, and won it the game.
Ducharme made big-time changes to the defensive core as well, inserting Romanov and Brett Kulak on defence, changing all three defensive pairings from the previous three games. Again, there was good, bad, and neutral associated with the moves, with Romanov scoring in his Cup Final debut, and Kulak making a terrible decision in neutral ice to allow the second Lightning goal.
Again, they will have to go back to the lab to mull over the lineup, but Romanov’s inclusion, and his ability to log even-strength minutes with Weber, spreads the defensive talent better across three pairings, therefore taking much of the stress off the big four.
The winning at home thing
We know how the Lightning look like in moments of urgency. We know how the Lightning perform when they are looking to avoid those moments of urgency. Tonight, we saw neither of those things. It just wasn’t their best effort.
Now, does that mean they were answering Tampa Bay mayor Jane Castor’s pleads to take it easy on the Canadiens in Game 4? Certainly not. Were they protesting the decision to prevent their families and loved ones from flying in to potentially celebrate? Not at all. Were they desperate to have this win, to the same level as Montreal? I don’t think so.
With a full crowd, loved ones in the building, and champagne cooling in their own dressing room, and the world at the fingertips unlike last summer when they won the championship in a secure COVID-19-free bubble, the incentive will be there, surely, for the Lightning.
I suspect that will be reflected in their Game 5 performance.
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