When two talented goalies put on a goaltending clinic, just one missed opportunity can be the difference between winning and losing.
If the Tampa Bay Lightning (38-29-10) fail to make the playoffs, they may look back on Nikita Kucherov missing a wide-open net on a 2-on-1 in overtime against the Montreal Canadiens (45-24-9) and wonder, “What if?”
Just seconds after Kucherov’s golden opportunity, Alexander Radulov buried the game-winning goal 51 seconds into three-on-three overtime, giving the Canadiens a 2-1 victory over the Lightning at Amalie Arena. The Lightning gained one point, but combined with victories by the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, they’re now four points behind Boston for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Brayden Point and Kucherov bore down on Montreal goalie Carey Price on a 2-on-1 in overtime. Although Point set up Kucherov with a perfect pass, the puck rolled just enough and Kucherov scuffed his shot wide.
Immediately after that chance, Montreal’s Max Pacioretty raced down the ice with the puck on a 2-on-1, firing a shot that Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy turned aside. Pacioretty got the puck back, circled around, and found Radulov with a pass in the right circle, drilling a one-timer top shelf past Vasilevskiy. Radulov didn’t appear to get full impact on the shot, but it was enough to end this hockey game.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper lamented the lost opportunity after the game.
“We got the right guy in the right spot with the puck on his stick. It’s too bad because it rolls on him,” Cooper said.
The thrilling ending capped off a goaltending duel between Vasilevskiy and Montreal’s Carey Price.
Vasilevskiy finished with 34 saves on 36 shots while Price turned aside 21 of 22 Lightning shots.
Early in the opening period, Vasilevskiy stopped a Dwight King breakaway chance following a turnover by Andrej Sustr. The Lightning sprinkled scoring chances in between some extended Montreal shifts in the Lightning’s zone. Tampa Bay nearly went up 1-0 late in the period as Point and Kucherov worked a brilliant give-and-go. Point banked a pass off the boards to a streaking Kucherov down the left wing. Kucherov spun around and dished it back to Point. Skating in alone on Price, Point inexplicably passed it to Jake Dotchin, resulting in the play getting broken up. Each team registered seven shots on goal at the first intermission.
Montreal controlled play for the majority of the second period, outshooting the Lightning 17-6 in the middle stanza. If not for the brilliance of Vasilevskiy, the score could’ve easily been 3-0 in favor of Montreal.
However, they were still able to find the back of the net when a bad turnover by Victor Hedman led to a scramble in front of Vasilevskiy. Phillip Danault poked it into the net for his 13th of the season, putting the Habs up 1-0 at the 14:24 mark. Point found himself on a late breakway, but was denied by Price. Tampa Bay received a power play with under two minutes to go in the period, but failed to scored despite some solid looks. Montreal held a 24-13 lead in shots on goal going into the third period.
Price started the final period with a couple of early saves on Gourde and Vlad Namestnikov in front to keep the Lightning off the scoreboard. The Lightning began to assert themselves more in the final 20 minutes. Vasilevskiy responded with a few key saves of his own. However, he was fortunate when a rebound shot by Andrew Shaw off a rush rang off the crossbar. Montreal nearly doubled up their lead when Paul Byron jumped on a Jonathan Drouin turnover and found himself on a breakaway. Unfortunately for Byron, he mishandled the puck and never got off a clean shot.
Gourde tied it up when he deflected Hedman’s shot from the point past Price with 8:22 left in the third period. Three of Gourde’s four goals this season have either been game-tying or game-winning tallies. The Canadiens appeared to take the lead with 3:38 remaining in regulation when Jeff Petry’s shot from the point beat Vasilevskiy. However, the officials immediately waived it off for goaltender interference.
Despite the loss, Cooper was able to find a positive despite the fact his team was outplayed for much of this game.
“We still got a point in a game where you could say they were better than us,” Cooper said. “Not getting a point would have been devastating.”
The Lightning return to action Sunday evening when they host the Dallas Stars in the second of back-to-back games. Puck drop is at 6 pm.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Carey Price – Stopped 21 of 22 shots. Didn’t have to make a lot of spectacular saves, but came up big when his team needed him.
2nd Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy – Deserved a better fate tonight, stopping 34 of 36 shots. If not for him, this game doesn’t go to overtime.
3rd Star: Alexander Radulov – Notched the game-winning goal just 51 seconds into overtime.