By Dory LeBlanc
Fifteen days after defeating the Canadiens to clinch a playoff berth, Tampa Bay met Montreal for the fifth time this season; and although the Lightning won the season series 3-1, this series, this game, meant so much more.
After 78 minutes, eight seconds, the Habs would claim Game 1.
Halfway into the first period, Nikita Kucherov opened the scoring on a centering feed from J.T. Brown and beat Montreal goaltender Carey Price gloveside for the 1-1 lead.
19 seconds later, Tomas Plekanec scored the equalizer with a top shelf laser after making easy work of Tampa Bay defenseman Radko Gudas.
Despite losing the lead almost as soon as the Lighting established it, Lindback played as good as he has in his past three starts, stopping 13-of-14 first period shots.
The crux of the first 20 minutes was Tampa Bay's lack of an offensive presence, shooting the puck four times in the first period - the fourth being Kucherov's goal at 10:09 - but still ending in a 1-1 tie.
Steven Stamkos single-handedly took control of the middle frame, first by riling up his troops after Ondrej Palat was hit late by Andrei Markov and taking the defenseman to task along the boards by the Lightning bench. Although it grew into a minor scrum, no one was penalized but it did make the game chippier. Moments later, the captain broke the tie with his signature one-timer from the left circle that flew like a bullet past Price into the net.
Less than three minutes later, Brian Gionta scored a shorthanded goal to tie the game back up.
All week long, analysts and Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper repeatedly stressed that these two clubs have played close games all campaign and not to expect anything else in this series. Through two periods, the new division rivals were locked at a 2-2 tie, with the Habs leading in shots on goal 22-11 and the Lightning leading in faceoffs won, 28-16, and hits, 26-17.
5:10 into the third, Lars Eller gave Montreal their first lead of the game on a wrister, but two minutes later, Alex Killorn's equalizer put the Lightning back even at 3-3.
After Thomas Vanek put the Habs back up on top with 11:30 to go in regulation, Stamkos scored his second goal of the night after Killorn took the puck down the ice in a 2-on-1 situation and drew Price to the right side of the crease. As Killorn pulled back to fire, he slowed his motion and passed the puck instead to Stamkos, who easily fed the puck into an empty net to bring the game to 4-4 with less than six minutes of regulation to go.
With 2:01 left on the clock, Tampa Bay had their backs to the wall after Killorn was called for a high-sticking penalty on Max Pacioretty. Credit to a stickless Johnson blocking a shot with less than a minute to go, followed by a gargantuan block by Brown in the waning seconds to send the game to OT.
The Lightning continued to get out-worked by Montreal in the overtime period, but took more shots in OT, nine, then they had in any other period in the contest.
Dale Weise claimed the title of Game 1 hero after scoring the game-winner 18:08 into the first overtime period to give the Canadiens the 5-4 victory.
First Period -
1. TB - Kucherov (Brown, Paquette) 10:09
2. MTL - Plekanec (Emelin, Gallagher) 10:28
Second Period -
1. TB - Stamkos (Kostka) 13:24
2. MTL - Gionta (Eller, Weaver) 16:39
Third Period -
1. MTL - Eller (Gionta) 5:10
2. TB - Killorn (Johnson) 7:11
3. MTL - Vanek (Desharnais, Emelin) 11:30
4. TB - Stamkos (Killorn) 13:27
1. MTL - Weise (Briere, Gorges) 18:08
Shots On Goal:
TB - 25
MTL - (1) None; (2) Briere - Holding The Stick, Subban - Slashing, Emelin - Slashing; (3) None; (OT) None
TB - (1) Panik - Tripping; (2) Paquette - Cross-Checking; (3) Killorn - High-Sticking; (OT) None
Next up for the Bolts: Tampa Bay will host the Habs for Game 2 of the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs this Friday, April 18th at 7:00 pm at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. You can catch all of the action on sister station 970 WFLA with Hall of Famer Phil Esposito and Dave Mishkin giving the call with coverage beginning at 6:30 pm.