A final thought from Nate Thompson, offered right before his Montreal Canadiens took off for Tampa Bay on Friday, resonates in the wake of a 5-4 loss to the Lightning.
“There’s so much parity, you go from second to sixth in the division in a night or vice versa,” Thompson said. “All we can do is take care of ourselves. Every game is crucial. All the points are very important, even with 45 games to go.”
On this night, the Canadiens allowed two points to slip through their fingers and dropped from third place in the Atlantic Division to fifth.
The Lightning, who have two games in hand on Montreal, erased an early 2-0 deficit—and an 18-0 shot advantage the Canadiens held through the first 12:24 of the game—and prevailed in regulation to leap from sixth into fourth.
There are big games, and then there are games that offer you an opportunity to distance yourself from a divisional rival nipping at your heels in the standings. You know, in other words, huge games.
To say the Canadiens failed to take care of themselves in this one would be understating it.
Meanwhile, in another part of Florida, the Panthers took care of their business against the visiting Detroit Red Wings and also jumped over the Canadiens into third place in the Atlantic.
Elsewhere, the Toronto Maple Leafs earned a point in an overtime loss to the New York Rangers to remain in second place in the Atlantic and open up a five-point lead on Tampa and Montreal.
Speaking of five-point leads, that’s what the Philadelphia Flyers have—along with a game in hand—on the Canadiens. They’re in the second wild-card position in the Eastern Conference.
All to say, the loss to Tampa was a killer for a Canadiens team that had gone to the Christmas break with wins in three of four games and seven in its last 10.
Late-period goals killing Canadiens
When Alex Killorn beat Shea Weber to the net and put the Lightning on the board with 59 seconds remaining in the first period, it was the 14th time the Canadiens had allowed a goal in the final minute of a period (according to hockey-reference.com).
Whether it’s a lack of focus, or inexperience, or bad luck, this is a big part of the reason the Canadiens are approaching the halfway point of the season on the playoff bubble. They have now lost seven of 11 games in which they’ve allowed a goal in the final minute of a period (they allowed two goals against in the final minute of a period in three games this season).
Credit the Lightning for bouncing back from the way they started the game—on their heels and just watching the Canadiens skate circles around them—but they had nothing threatening going before a cross-zone pass got to Steven Stamkos. The Lightning captain then bounced the puck off Ryan McDonagh and it eventually landed on Killorn’s stick for the goal that turned this whole game around.
With momentum firmly on their side, the Lightning opened the second period determined. Stamkos then notched the 800th point of his career by collecting the rebound off a shot he zipped off the glass, and less than two minutes of the middle frame had expired when it went in.
Mitchell Stevens made it 3-2 Tampa at 4:57 of the second, and Killorn scored again to make it 4-2.
The Canadiens pushed back immediately with a goal from Ben Chiarot after coach Claude Julien called timeout.
But Tampa’s Anthony Cirelli scored the winner 55 seconds into the third period.
That would be the sixth goal the Canadiens have allowed in the first minute of a period this season, which is troubling, but not quite as troubling as the aforementioned trend that is clearly costing them valuable points in the standings.
By the way, five of those seven losses when allowing goals in the final minutes of periods have come against divisional rivals (one to Boston, two to Detroit, and now two to Tampa).
• Jesperi Kotkaniemi, playing in his first game since suffering a concussion on Dec. 5, opened the scoring 2:08 into the first period. It was the 19-year-old’s third goal on the road this season after not scoring any in his rookie season.
• Max Domi extended his goal streak to four games to make it 2-0 Montreal, but he finished the game minus-3 after being on the ice for the four goals the Lightning scored from the second period onward.
• Carey Price allowed five goals against for the first time in December. It was his 10th start of the month, and he’s allowed two goals or less in six of them.
Meanwhile, with the loss, Price dropped to 2-5-2 this season on three days of rest or more.
The Canadiens will take on the Panthers in Sunrise, Fla., on Sunday.