Tyler Johnson tied the NHL record for latest goal scored in a regulation playoff game, beating Carey Price on a goalmouth tap-in with 1.1 seconds remaining to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to a stunning 2–1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night. The win gives the Bolts a 3-0 stranglehold in the series and a chance to close it out at home on Thursday night. With a win in Game 4, the Lightning would become the first club in NHL history to sweep a team one season after being swept in the playoffs by that same team.
Here are three thoughts in the wake of this wild finish:
1. The Canadiens just aren’t good enough.
Safe to say now that this one just wasn’t in the cards for Montreal.
The Canadiens needed to deliver their best effort of the series, and after a sloppy turnover-filled start they responded with some of their most determined hockey of the season. They completely outplayed the Lightning in every aspect of the game, outshooting them 31-19 and out-attempting them 69-41.
This was the desperation that was missing in Games 1 and 2 in Montreal. The Habs were quick to loose pucks, won the majority of the battles and repeatedly crashed the net. They even changed up their attack, sending defensemen down the middle to the net instead of waiting for the wingers to get there. They did everything in their power to get back into this series.
And it still wasn’t enough.
Ultimately it came down to one thing: The Canadiens were built to prevent goals, not score them. That’s fine during the regular season when you play a variety of teams and have the sublime Carey Price between the pipes. But at this time of year, when you face the same opponent night after night, a team needs gamebreaking talent and creativity to advance. The Bolts have both. The Canadiens have neither.
The stone-handed Habs have been held to two regulation goals or fewer in every game this spring except for their opener against Ottawa. They’ve scored four times, total, through the three games of this series. Before Brendan Gallagher finally beat Ben Bishop on a third-period rebound with Brian Boyle draped across his back, Montreal’s other goals had been the products of luck rather than skill or effort.
Compare that track record to Johnson’s dagger—an empty side tap-in created by a beautiful cross-crease pass off the stick of rushing defender Victor Hedman. Montreal hasn’t executed a play with that level of creativity in the entire series.
Where the Bolts find the twine, the Habs find posts and crossbars and the crest on Bishop’s jersey. And that’s what killed them.
2. Better late than never.
Despite the thrilling finish, this isn’t one the Lightning are going to save for their scrapbook.
Coach Jon Cooper promised before the game that the Bolts would go for the jugular. Instead they went for a public skate, going half the pace of the desperate Canadiens up until that last-minute flourish when they turned it on and reminded everyone that yeah, they are the skill team in this series.
Despite the off-night, the Bolts stayed in this one because they’re a fairly efficient defensive unit. The Lightning have now won five straight, allowing just six goals in the process. While it’s been a team effort for the first four, this one was all Bishop, who joins former Bruin Tim Thomas as the only netminders in history to beat the Canadiens eight consecutive times. Bishop made 26 consecutive stops before being beaten by Gallagher, several of them from close range. He wasn’t always economical with his rebounds, but he battled hard to keep his teammates in the game.
3. This one’s on the coach.
Brad Marchand? Don Cherry? No, the most hated hockey figure in Montreal is now Canadiens coach Michel Therrien. Wednesday night you saw why.
Therrien and his system have sucked the life out of a franchise that used to represent everything that was beautiful about the game. His Canadiens play a dull, plodding brand of hockey, devoid of skill and passion. They’re reactors, not actors, and forced into a situation where they had to generate offense they didn’t have it in them. Again.
And it’s not just his system that maddens the faithful. His decision making is equally impossible to defend.
Take a look at the final 90 seconds of the game. With a draw in the defensive zone, Therrien tapped his fourth line on the shoulders and sent them out. The Bolts responded with their first line. Torrey Mitchell beat Steven Stamkos, but a quick icing brought the puck back into Montreal’s end. That time Stamkos beat Mitchell, kicking off a minute and a half of relentless pressure in the Canadiens’ zone.
Therrien managed one change on a clear, but sent out Andrei Markov to slow the Lightning attack. The fact that Markov had made the mental error that led to Alex Killorn’s opening goal and was certainly Montreal’s worst defender on the night didn’t appear to enter into his decision.
Predictably, Markov was out of position and failed to negate Hedman before the Bolts defenseman threaded his pass to Johnson for the winner.
There are plenty of problems that GM Marc Bergevin will need to address during the off-season. He needs more size up front to match up better against big defenses like Tampa’s. And there’s the obvious need for one or two finishers for the top-six.
But it doesn’t matter which players he adds to his roster. If Therrien is still behind the bench next season, the Canadiens will deliver more of the same. They’ll be good, but for this organization, good shouldn’t be good enough.