Delivering their best effort of these playoffs, the Bolts leveraged their speed, offensive depth and an impressive performance by goaltender Ben Bishop to send their divisional rivals packing. Nikita Kucherov scored a pair of goals, including the icebreaker 15:35 into the first period. Tampa Bay is now 6-0 this postseason when it scores first.
The Lightning know they’ll be skating in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday, but will have to wait until Wednesday night to find out who, and where, they’ll be playing. They’ll host the opener at Amalie Arena if the Capitals knock off the Rangers in Game 7, but will be off to New York if the Blueshirts take it.
Here are three takeaways from the series clincher.
1. The Lightning stars struck.
After making this series far more interesting than it should have been by dropping two straight, the Lightning needed their big dogs to pull the cart in Game 6. Tampa Bay’s stars delivered in a big way.
Steven Stamkos clearly isn’t 100%, but the Lightning’s captain still turned in his best performance of the playoffs in this one. He broke Montreal’s back with a beautiful goal early in the second period, beating Jeff Petry with a slick toe drag and then firing a BB that rocketed past Carey Price high glove. It was the sniper’s third goal of the playoffs and second in as many games, suggesting that he’s at least starting to feel more like himself. The time off between this game and the opener of the next round could be exactly what he needs to return to top shape.
The Bolts also got an excellent game from the Triplets. Kucherov chipped in an assist to go with his two-goal effort, Ondrej Palat went one and one, and Tyler Johnson generated several chances with his speed and net drive. That line has accounted for 17 of Tampa’s 34 playoff goals to this point. With Stamkos slowly finding his form, this group will be a matchup nightmare for whoever meets up with them in the next round.
It was a solid night too from Bishop, who finally got the yips out of his game and delivered the controlled excellence that was missing earlier in the series. This was more than just making big stops. He was handling the puck like Martin Brodeur in his prime. Not only was he able to make plays to set up the offense in transition, but his ability to corral the pucks that Montreal sent deep before their forecheckers arrived put the brakes on their attack. With his early struggles behind him, Bishop looks like a netminder who can carry this team all the way.
• NHL appendectomies: How long is Ryan Callahan likely to be out?
NHL's All-Appendectomy Team
Ryan Callahan, 2015
On the eve of Game 6 of their second round series vs. Montreal, the Lightning's alternate captain was unable to practice due to abdominal pain. He was taken to Tampa General Hospital where he was diagnosed with acute appendicitis. After surgery he was expected to be sidelined indefinitely.
Jiri Tlusty, 2013
The Hurricanes forward needed an emergency procedure in late December was given the usual two to three week recovery period. He needed the full three.
Max Pacioretty, 2013
Expected to miss three to four weeks after surgery in Montreal on Jan. 26, the Canadiens winger was back in action eight days later.
Brad Richardson, 2012
The Kings' center was sidelined by stomach pain and surgery two days before the team opened its first round series in Vancouver on April 11. His condition was diagnosed by his mother, a nurse who was visiting him when he fell sick. He was expected to miss three to four weeks, but returned to the team eight days later and scored a key goal in his second game back, forcing overtime before the Kings wrapped up the series on a tally by Jarret Stoll.
Jamie Benn, 2012
Stricken on Jan. 15, the Stars forward was expected to miss his first All-Star game in Ottawa two weeks later, but he made it back in time. “If I walk in there on crutches, I figure I might key in for that car,” he joked about the auto awarded to the last player chosen in the All-Star draft. Added Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk: “We just told Jamie to play up the illness. You go out there and look bad, and you might just walk out of there with a car.” Benn was chosen next to last by Team Chara, the car going to Logan Couture of the Sharks.
Patrick Sharp, 2011
On the eve of training camp in September, the Blackhawks forward complained to the team's physician of abdominal discomfort and wound up going under the knife. Expected to need three to four weeks to recover, Sharp was back at practice in 18 days and played for the Hawks on opening night (Oct. 7).
Craig Adams, 2011
After signing a two-year extension with the Penguins in June of that year, Adams was stricken in August. Recovery from surgery in Pittsburgh was set at four weeks, but the veteran forward was ready for training camp that September.
Ryan Stoa, 2011
Only six games after his February call-up from AHL Lake Erie, Colorado's rookie forward needed an emergency appendectomy on March 4. He returned 13 days later and scored the game-winning goal in the fourth round of a shootout vs. Edmonton.
Ruslan Fedotenko, 2011
While sidelined by a separated shoulder he suffered in January, the Rangers winger needed an appendectomy the following month that tacked an additional three to four weeks on to his estimated return. Fortunately he was able to play again by Feb. 25.
Jordan Eberle, 2011
While nursing an ankle sprain, the Oilers' rookie forward had to have his appendix removed in early January. "I've never really been injured and then in two days I kind of got everything," he told the Toronto Sun. "I just woke up in the morning and my stomach was killing me. It was bad. I thought I had food poisoning, originally. I was vomiting and it was a really sharp pain. I came to the rink, checked it out and they said you have to go to the hospital. The doctor said I had appendicitis and had to get it removed right away. If it bursts it could be really dangerous. Within two hours I was on the operating table." Eberle ended up missing a month.
Mike Modano, 2010
After the Stars' 39-year-old future Hall of Famer played eight painful minutes in a game vs. Colorado, it was feared that he would be sidelined indefinitely after surgery on March 15 and miss the rest of what would be his final season with Dallas. He made it back 19 days later and played in the Stars' final five regular season games.
Steve Ott, 2010
Ott the pot-stirring Stars forward missed nearly a month after he developed a post-operative infection that February. Two years later he was sitting in a hot tub with teammate Jamie Benn. "I told him he looked like garbage," Ott told the Dallas Morning News. “And he just looked at me and said, ‘I’m not feeling very well.’ It’s just one of those things, I don’t think there’s a clinical reason why it goes, but it went and it’s actually a pretty tough surgery. But the good thing is the return time is a lot better than expected.”
T.J. Oshie, 2009
Stomach cramps during an October 23 game vs. Minnesota told the Blues forward that something might be wrong, and he was right. Taken to a St. Louis hospital, Oshie underwent surgery and was given a two-week recovery schedule. He was back in 13 days.
Jonathan Ericsson, 2009
Perhaps the land speed record for appendectomy recovery, the Red Wings defenseman missed Detroit’s Western Conference finals clincher vs. Chicago but needed only three days to get back to work. Suiting up for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals vs. the Penguins, Ericsson logged 16:47 of ice time in 19 shifts and was +1 in the Wings’s 3–1 win.
Andreas Lilja, 2008
The Red Wings blueliner had not been feeling well when he missed a practice in mid-October and was taken to a hospital where it was discovered that he had a calcium build-up in his appendix. Like Jonathan Ericsson the following year, Lilja was back on his skates three days later. However, the Wings held him out of action as a precaution until the following week.
Chris Mason, 2008
Mason, 32, was in his first season as the Blues' backup goalie when he fell ill and needed surgery in October. His record 0-1 when he got sick, he returned less than three weeks later only to continue what would become a six-game losing streak en route to 4-13-1 mark by the following January 19. Eventually he regained his form and finished with 57 appearances including four in the playoffs.
Nick Schultz, 2008
The Wild lost one of their top defenders when Schultz, unable to skate in practice due to stomach pain, needed an emergency appendectomy right before the start of Minnesota's first round playoff series vs. Colorado. He was given no timetable for his return, but he made it back for Game 6, just in time for the Wild to be eliminated.
Paul Stastny, 2008
Expected to miss up to three weeks after surgery in mid-January, the Avalanche center's recovery time caused him to miss his first All-Star Game in Atlanta and he did not see action again until Feb. 22, five weeks after he took ill.
Andrew Ladd, 2006
The current captain of the Winnipeg Jets was a 21-year-old second-year player with the Carolina Hurricanes when he needed an emergency appendectomy in Raleigh, NC, in mid-December. He was back in action by January 2.
Grant Fuhr, 1989
After coming out of a brief protest retirement, the Oilers’ four-time Stanley Cup winning netminder complained of stomach pains during training camp in September and was examined by teammate Randy Gregg, who was also a licensed physician. Fuhr needed an emergency appendectomy and missed five-and-a-half weeks. He eventually played in 59 games that season and his career continued until 2000.
2. The Habs revealed themselves.
The Canadiens clearly exhausted themselves in extending this series to six games. After a halfway decent first period, they played as if they were dragging parachutes the rest of the way. Give credit to the Lightning, who recognized those dead legs and set a pace that Montreal just couldn’t match. But that wasn’t the main reason why the series ended on Tuesday night. Nor was the latest in a long string of bad bounces: the P.A Parenteau shot that rang off the post just before Palat pushed the lead to 3–0 in the second period.
Ultimately, this was just Montreal being Montreal. This was a team that was lousy in terms of possession and struggled to score all season long. No surprise then that they managed just 12 goals in their first round win over Ottawa and 13 in their loss to the Lightning.
The Bolts played keep-away with the puck all night long because that's what the Canadiens allowed them to do all year. On a night that should have been defined by their desperation, the Habs settled just 19 shots, most of them from safe distance.
It was telling to see how little pushback they mustered, especially after allowing the opening goal. The Lightning landed 10 of the next 11 shots on net, with the last being Stamkos' dagger. Once that rocket eluded Price, what little fight the Canadiens had in them was gone.
• Full Game 6 recap | box score
3. What next for Les Habitants?
Any season that ends without the Stanley Cup is a disaster in Montreal, but this short stroll through the playoffs couldn’t have surprised anyone who paid close attention to the team. Despite their 110-point season, this wasn’t an elite group. If not for a superlative season from Price, the Habs might have needed a wild card berth to make the playoffs.
While there are several key pieces in place, this team needs significant changes to take that next step needed to become a legitimate contender. First and foremost is a center capable of driving the top line. Neither Tomas Plekanec or David Desharnais is a good fit for the job. They also could use at least two top-six caliber wingers who are capable of lighting the lamp. No one expects GM Marc Bergevin to fill all those holes over the summer, but he’ll be watched carefully to see how he intends to upgrade his club.
The faithful also will be interested to hear what he has to say about the future of coach Michel Therrien. Despite having led the team to an Atlantic Division title, there’s a groundswell of discontent with him and the frustrating limitations of his defense-first system. His inability to match the adjustments made by Tampa Bay on Tuesday night, or even motivate his troops to meet their opponent’s intensity in this must-win game, will only fire up the pro-coaching change crowd.
Expect speculation to center around the availability of pending free agent Mike Babcock. The Red Wings/Team Canada bench boss is shopping his services around the league through May 25 before deciding on his future in Detroit, and if any job could convince him to leave his comfort zone it would most likely be the Canadiens. Babcock played at Montreal’s McGill University and is said to have studied some French in recent years, so he has ties to the area and a desire to improve an important skill set. It’d be a coup for the organization to land him and you have to think the job would appeal to his desire to compete in a high-profile setting.
The next few days should be interesting.