MONTREAL – The defending Stanley Cup Champions are one win away from holding onto their crown for another year after the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Montreal Canadiens 6-3 to take a 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven series.
Montreal goaltender Carey Price, has struggled out outduel his opponent to the same form seen in the first three rounds. In Game 3, he surrendered Montreal’s first two goals of the game on harmless-looking shots from Tampa defensemen Jan Rutta and Victor Hedman.
That put Montreal in a hole just 3:27 into the game and they played from behind the rest of the way.
"I can definitely play better,” Price said after the game. “It’s just not good enough so far.”
Through the first three rounds of the playoffs, Price was 12-5 with a .934 save percentage. In three Cup Final games, Price is winless with an .835 save percentage.
The two early goals deflated Montreal early. Although they were able to cut the deficit to one goal late in the first period when Phillip Danault at 11:16. Tampa’s potent offense won out in the middle frame.
Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov scored his eighth goal of the postseason at 1:40 of the second period. Tyler Johnson followed that up with his first of two goals on the night at 3:33. The timing of Tampa’s goals once again took Montreal out of it.
The Canadiens did get some life when Nick Suzuki managed squeak one through Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to bring the game within two goals at 18:04. But Montreal struggled to create high-quality scoring chances in the third period. When they did get a chance in close, Vasilevskiy returned to form. When Montreal tried to set up in the attack zone, Tampa’s defense was able to break up the threat.
It was thorough domination at all ends of the ice.
The Canadiens have opted to keep their lineup intact through the first three games of the Final. Mistakes caused by Montreal in Game 3 beg for some lineup changes.
Down 4-2 late in the third period, Erik Gustafsson committed a careless turnover that seemingly put the game away for Tampa. Despite a goal from Corey Perry less than a minute later to make it 5-3 Bolts, Montreal’s carelessness in their own zone led to an empty-net goal for Blake Coleman.
Adjustments need to be made.
Montreal’s offensive touch appears to have run out. Perhaps putting out a healthy Tomas Tatar may turn their fortunes.
Gustafsson’s untimely error in the third would receive disciplinary benching in most situations. Perhaps a change to the back end might help in that regard for Game 4.
Of course, none of those things will help Montreal if Price doesn’t return to his form through the first three rounds.
Montreal has two off days to figure it out.
They were written off after going down 3-1 against the Montreal Canadiens in the opening round. Now they are in their biggest hole at the final stage.
“We don’t have a choice,” Price said when asked about why they believe they can come back in the series. “We’ve overcome adversity all season long. Our backs are against the wall so.” we’re going to have to start bringing our best.”