Now the Tampa Bay Lightning know what the Montreal Canadiens felt like the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final.
Montreal’s overtime victory in Game 4 Monday night gave the Lightning a bitter taste of last week.
A little like Game 1, when Tampa Bay got traffic in front of Carey Price, Montreal did a better job of putting bodies in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy. A little like Game 2, when the Lightning were on their heels and yet scored opportunistic goals, the Canadiens were outshot 11-1 — and didn’t have one for the first eight-plus minutes — before going up 1-0 to set the tone and take their first lead of the series.
All that contributed to Josh Anderson’s shot through traffic in the first, Alexander Romanov’s goal in the third period and then Anderson’s overtime winner to send the series back to Tampa for Game 5 on Wednesday night. Like Blake Coleman’s game-winner for the Lightning in Game 2, Anderson was falling down as he found the net in this one.
It also didn’t help Tampa Bay that instead of wilting, Price only got into a rhythm when he was peppered with 12 shots in the first period and looked sharp throughout.
“I thought our guys were playing really well in front of me,” Price said. “We’re doing our best to limit chances and clear rebounds.”
Despite all that, Tampa Bay outshot Montreal 24-15 at even strength and 34-21 overall. It was a familiar feeling to the Canadiens, who felt like they outplayed the Lightning in Game 2 but still came away with a loss.
“What could we have done different? Probably not hit as many posts as we hit,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Pucks have been doing in for us and tonight they didn’t. Did I think we generated enough chances to score? I did, and they didn’t go in.”
The next challenge for the Lightning is finding the right balance: Stick to their plan that worked so well in building a 3-0 series lead or make a handful of adjustments to close out the Canadiens and lift the Cup for the second time in 10 months.
Based on what happened Monday, it could be a mix of game-planning, personnel and execution.
Copying some of the Canadiens’ alterations might be a good start. Aside from a shaky start — possibly because of a shakeup of forward lines — Montreal found its game and started banging around the Lightning between and after the whistles.
The banged-up Lightning might not want to get into a shoving match with the Canadiens at this stage, though they may have little choice and certainly have the big bodies to handle it. Montreal coach Dominique Ducharme looks brilliant for bringing fresh legs to the blue line with Romanov and Bret Kulak, and making one substitution up front by scratching Jesperi Kotkaniemi for Jake Evans, who set up Romanov’s goal.
Cooper has one obvious option to get bigger, tougher and more experienced, assuming Alex Killorn is ready to play after missing the past three games with an undisclosed injury. Killorn skated in warmup prior to Game 3, but smaller forward Mathieu Joseph remained in.
Killorn’s return could pay big dividends 5-on-5 and on the power play, an area the Lightning struggled at in Game 4 because their skill players couldn’t retrieve the puck on several occasions. He has also been a part of multiple Cooper-coached title teams before, dating to the 2012 Calder Cup with Norfolk of the American Hockey League and brings the sandpaper Tampa Bay badly needs.
And then there’s the execution part. The Canadiens scored first and took a lead for the first and second times all series, and that changes the way they play.
“The first goal of the hockey game is very important,” Anderson. “I thought we did a good job of that.”
It’s not as simple as the Lightning needing to score first in Game 5, but it would certainly go a long way to putting a fourth consecutive overtime loss this playoffs behind them.
“Their backs were against the wall and they gave it a push,” forward Barclay Goodrow said. “This game’s over with. We’re focused on Game 5, going back home, recharge the batteries and we’ll be ready to go.”
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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