Every shot, and second, counts for Tampa Bay

By Ben Shpigel

It was a cute idea, really it was. This notion that as the final seconds ticked off and play lingered in the neutral zone, the middle period of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final would end, just end, with the score still tied but the Montreal Canadiens in control. A puck, though — it can do some wondrous things when manipulated by marvels, and Tampa Bay Lightning winger Barclay Goodrow poked it beyond one Montreal defenseman, then maneuvered it past another to whip a backhand pass across the slot, and then there was no time left until there was just enough.

Smoke spewed from behind Canadiens goalie Carey Price, the crowd at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. whooped and yelled, and the man whose diving flick sent the puck into the net barreled headfirst toward the boards. Two years ago Blake Coleman scored one of the most unbelievable goals in recent NHL annals, but this effort — an eventual game-winner, with 1.1 seconds remaining in a period, in the Stanley Cup Final — rendered that one as quaint.

After their 3-1 victory Wednesday, the Lightning lead the best-of-seven series by two games to none, despite being outshot and outplayed for vast stretches, because the Canadiens couldn’t get out of a period that was over until it wasn’t. Game 3 is tonight in Montreal.

“A little bit of a puck management thing there,” interim-interim coach Luke Richardson said.

Also, the Grand Canyon is a big hole in the ground. That very term — puck management — had dominated the Canadiens’ consciousness for nearly 48 hours, since a series-opening 5-1 defeat that exploited their carelessness. They rebounded to handle the puck well for the better part of 39 minutes, 55 seconds on Wednesday, until it popped free near Tampa Bay’s offensive blue line. Goodrow flipped it past Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot, and as he skated around him, not far from the Lightning bench, Goodrow heard his teammates yell, “Shoot! Shoot!”

Goodrow and Coleman joined the team a week apart in February 2020, in deals that cost the Lightning what amounted to three first-round picks, a hefty outlay for bottom-six forwards.

When reminded late Wednesday night that general manager Julien BriseBois absorbed a bit of criticism for the trades, coach Jon Cooper chuckled and said, “A bit?”

Goodrow and Coleman clicked as linemates, meshing with center Yanni Gourde, to embody this new incarnation of the Lightning, a team with copious amounts of speed and skill, yes, but also snarl and a defensive identity.

“They’re a piece of the puzzle,” Cooper said, “but they were the final piece.”

He praised both players’ sense of occasion.

Knowing time was tight — less than 4 seconds remained — Goodrow weighed his options. If he could just slip the puck to a streaking Coleman, he thought, that was their best hope of scoring.

“It probably had a better chance of going in,” Goodrow said, “than me shooting from where I was.”

Even with Coleman draped by Phillip Danault, backchecking with fury. As the puck whistled his way, Coleman sensed he should lunge — “just kind of a reflex, really” — and his outstretched stick nudged it inside the near post, just before Price slid over. Before time was added, the scoreboard showed that three-tenths of a second remained.

“I don’t think anybody’s trying to dive on the ice there, but in that moment it was all we had,” Coleman said. “I don’t know why these goals happen.”

Goals, as in plural. He specializes in goals he shouldn’t be scoring, from the near facsimile against Boston in last season’s playoff bubble to the one-handed lifter while falling as a member of the New Jersey Devils against Winnipeg to a comparable play in college at Miami University in Ohio against Western Michigan.

“Literally, in my head, I’m like, ‘Did he just do that again?’” Cooper said. “Little bit different scenarios, but it was remarkably similar. Just the timing was epic.”

The roar from the Tampa Bay fans was deafening, almost as loud as the chants that rang long and true: “Vasy! Vasy! Vasy!” They echoed not after Vasilevskiy thwarted the Canadiens’ first breakaway of the opening period, or their second, or the in-tight backhander, or after any of his 42 saves, but before the puck was dropped and the American and Canadian anthems were sung.

Price has been outplayed this postseason by only Vasilevskiy, who punctuated all three series clinchers — against the Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Islanders — with shutouts. He has yielded just two goals, one in each game, against Montreal.

“I try not to think that much during the games,” Vasilevskiy said, when asked about dueling with Price. “Whatever happens, win or lose, I just try to play my best game.”

His best game Wednesday night frustrated the Canadiens, who regrouped after their poor showing in Game 1, when they resembled not the team that rampaged through the playoffs but all the opponents they vanquished: disjointed and discombobulated, reckless with the puck and unstructured without it. Upon reflection, and they did have an off day Tuesday to sift through the detritus, the Canadiens seized on the notion of simplicity. As in, keep doing what they have been doing — just do it better, and with more verve.

Instead of defending odd-man rushes, the Canadiens created them. They sprung breakaways, sprayed shots from all angles and penetrated the once-impermeable space in front of Vasilevskiy. They also could not score, at least not until 10 minutes, 36 seconds of the second, when Nick Suzuki dribbled in a backhander from the slot that appeared to deflect off at least one Lightning player.

It evened the score, and it stayed that way for most of the second period — but not all of it.



Tampa Bay Lightning at Montreal Canadiens, 8 p.m., NBC, SN, CBC, TVA Sports (Tampa Bay leads series 2-0)

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