The Canadiens are still alive. A day after a last-second defeat in Game 3, Montreal regrouped to dominate the Lightning in Game 4 on Thursday, led by Max Pacioretty.
Max Pacioretty’s three-point night helped avoid what would have been the sixth sweep in Montreal franchise history, as the Canadiens chased Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop and didn’t let up with a comfortable lead in hand on their way to a season-saving 6–2 win at Tampa Bay on Thursday night. Montreal jumped out to an early 2–0 advantage after entering Game 4 with a total of just two first-period goals all postseason and put the game out of reach by scoring three times in a 4:46 span early in the second period.
Three thoughts on Montreal’s emphatic win to force a Game 5:
1. The Canadiens' dominance went well beyond the 40–24 shot discrepancy
In light of Wednesday night’s deflating last-second loss and the quick 24-hour turnaround leading into Game 4, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien didn’t make any lineup changes and expressed satisfaction with his players’ work ethic ahead of what could have been the last game of the season for the Atlantic Division champions. He was proven right, but just because the Canadiens came away with a pronounced shot advantage for the second consecutive night doesn’t mean they didn’t take their offense to another level with the season on the line.
In Game 3, the Canadiens committed so much energy to getting traffic in front of Bishop and grinding out goals that when the conditions were perfect for open looks, the creative execution wasn’t there. On Thursday, Montreal turned nearly every Lightning turnover or fortuitous bounce into an opportunity to put sustained pressure on the Tampa Bay defense.
The Canadiens jumped on pucks that kicked off skateblades in the neutral zone, turned up their forecheck to win 50-50 battles along the wall and routinely produced high-percentage scoring chances in traffic. David Desharnais ended Bishop’s night with a slap shot that kicked off his glove and bounced into the net at 5:08 of the second period, but the rest of Montreal’s goals came by honest, hard-working means.
After scoring just seven goals in their past seven games, the Canadiens enjoyed a sharp regression to the mean, stumbling upon the puck luck that had eluded them earlier in the series and creating the rest for themselves. The score could have been worse than it was.
2. Max Pacioretty redeemed himself in spades for Wednesday night’s frustrating finish
The 26-year-old forward was on the ice for Tyler Johnson’s last-second heroics in Game 3, and as The Score’s Justin Bourne outlined in his detailed breakdown of Wednesday night’s game-winning goal, Pacioretty deserved a healthy portion of the blame for failing to mark Victor Hedman as the Tampa Bay defenseman joined the critical build-up in the dying moments. His work on the offensive end in Game 4 not only ensured that Johnson’s goal wouldn’t go down as the dagger in the Canadiens’ season; it also seemed to bring Montreal’s entire offense to life.
Pacioretty set up the game’s first goal with a perfectly placed boards pass to create space for himself in the Tampa Bay zone, catching the Lightning defense scrambling back to its shape just as he fired a pass to P.K. Subban, who danced in and set up fellow defenseman Andrei Markov with a wide-open net for Markov’s first goal of the playoffs.
Pacioretty’s shorthanded tally later in the first was the product of anticipation. Defenseman Tom Gilbert chipped the puck up for Pacioretty, who had broken up ice as soon as he saw defenseman Anton Stralman pinching in at the blue line. Pacioretty swooped in alone on a breakaway and snapped a shot past Bishop for his fourth goal of the playoffs. Later in the second, he kicked the puck forward to send Brendan Gallagher off for the fifth goal of the night.
Even when his efforts didn’t end in goals, Pacioretty was all over the ice: jumping onto an odd carom off a stanchion for a chance in close, finding a teammate in the slot with a spin-o-rama pass and generally driving the action on Montreal’s best line of the night alongside Gallagher and center Tomas Plekanec.
3. Tampa Bay’s power play remains a terrifying weapon
If the Canadiens want to become the fifth team in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 series deficit, they’d be best served staying out of the penalty box. In a sequence reminiscent of Game 2’s 6–2 blowout, the Lightning punished the Canadiens on back-to-back power-play opportunities with crisp passing that led to tap-in goals past a helpless Carey Price.
Nikita Kucherov was the beneficiary of a beautiful slap-pass from Ondrej Palat, tipping the puck past a sprawling Price for his fourth goal of the playoffs to cut into Montreal’s 5–0 lead after Markov was sent off for tripping midway through the second period. Palat got a goal for himself just 17 seconds into the third, somehow threading all four Canadiens players to arrive at the crease for the business end of a give-and-go with Tyler Johnson to cut the lead to three.
The Lightning entered Thursday with the best shooting percentage of any playoff team, and Jon Cooper’s team has put its ability to sacrifice shot quantity for shot quality on display in the series’ first two games at Amelie Arena. The Canadiens’ impressive display in Game 4 should be enough to spur some more urgency at even strength out of Tampa Bay.