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After extended break, Lightning return vs. Canadiens

Nov 15, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA;  Tampa Bay Lightning center Ross Colton (79) reacts after scoring goal against the Dallas Stars in the first period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning were looking to end a two-game skid before an unexpected schedule break just before Christmas and will have to try and do it against the same team it faced to open their recent road trip.

In their second meeting in 12 days, the Lightning and Montreal Canadiens will square off on Wednesday night. The game will be Montreal’s first of two at Tampa this season.

During their first matchup on Dec. 17, the Lightning scored twice in each of the first two periods — getting a pair of goals from Brandon Hagel in a three-point effort – and easily breezed past the Canadiens 5-1 to open a four-game road trip.

Tampa Bay failed to generate any momentum from there.

Coach Jon Cooper’s club dropped back-to-back decisions — 4-1 to the Toronto Maple Leafs and 7-4 against the Detroit Red Wings — as a season-high five-game winning streak ended.

Friday’s scheduled game at Buffalo was postponed in advance of the weekend’s brutal winter storm. That contest was rescheduled for March 4.

That left the Lightning to mull over the last two games, particularly the most recent defeat to the Red Wings, who are pursuing them in the Atlantic Division standings. Holding third place, the Lightning possess a six-point lead over fourth-place Detroit.

In the game at Detroit, the Red Wings broke open a 3-3 tie after 40 minutes and scored four times in the third period. The last two goals were scored into an empty net over the final 2:33.

Ross Colton and Nikita Kucherov had a goal and an assist each, but the Lightning couldn’t score on an early two-man advantage that lasted nearly two minutes.

“If you let a two-minute, 5-on-3 slide by, it is going to change the game,” Cooper said. “They got momentum off of it and we felt sorry for ourselves. What did Ted Lasso say? You have to have the memory of a goldfish.”

In nearly a month of play, Montreal and coach Martin St. Louis have struggled to get on the right track and are just two points ahead of the last-place Ottawa Senators in the Atlantic Division.

Dating back to a 5-3 road loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 3, the Canadiens are 3-6-2 across their last 11 games. In that span, they have scored two goals or fewer in seven of the 11 games and are only 2-1-1 in the games in which they netted three or more goals.

The Canadiens, who will by playing for the fourth time during a season-long seven-game road swing, are coming off Friday’s 4-2 loss at the Dallas Stars and are 1-4-1 over their past six outings.

Fourth-liner Michael Pezzetta scored and assisted on linemate Jake Evans’ early goal Friday, but Pezzetta’s tripping penalty with the game tied 2-2 in the third period led to Wyatt Johnston’s game-winning, power-play goal with five minutes left.

“You know what you’re going to get from (Pezzetta),” St. Louis said. “Tonight, he got rewarded for some quality plays, and unfortunately that penalty costs. And I know he’s going to take it to heart.”

Over the past 14 head-to-head matchups in the regular season since Feb. 24, 2018, Tampa Bay has produced a dozen victories and a 12-1-1 mark.

–Field Level Media