With a chance to gain ground Tuesday night in the playoff race, the Atlantic Division’s Tampa Bay Lightning played one bad period of hockey against the last-place Montreal Canadiens.
It wound up costing them.
Through a two-game trek through eastern Canada, the Lightning will make a stop in Ottawa on Thursday night when they face the Senators in the first of two meetings in the nation’s capital.
In Quebec on Tuesday, the quick trip up north started with a dud in a 3-2 regulation loss to Montreal. The Canadiens led 2-0 in the first period and hung in there at the end to win for just the second time in March (2-7-2).
While Lightning coach Jon Cooper liked the final two frames, he also had to consider the bad start.
“We were a little lifeless, but in the end, it’s a 2-0 score,” Cooper said of the Lightning (42-24-6, 90 points). “But if you look at what it was, it was two egregious turnovers and a bad track. All three (goals against) ended up in the net.”
Habs goaltender Sam Montembeault got the start, stopping 31 of 33 shots to beat the Lightning for the first time in three career starts.
Added Cooper: “He was their best player tonight.”
While the Toronto Maple Leafs were getting demolished 7-2 at the New York Islanders, the Lightning’s loss kept them from gaining points on the second-place club — disappointing considering their success in three prior wins over the hapless Habs this season.
Regarding the pursuit, Cooper said it was a familiar discussion from last season when his team trailed the Leafs.
“This exact conversation was going on last year at this time, and we ended up going to the (Stanley Cup) Finals,” said the 11th-year coach. “Our compete is there. … There’s a lot to like about our game.”
The Senators are 2-7-1 in their past 10 matchups against the Eastern Conference champions, and it’s been just as bad against the rest of the league lately.
In their past nine outings, coach D.J. Smith’s squad has won twice (2-6-1) and owned a five-game losing streak (0-4-1) until stunning the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 Tuesday night.
The Senators (34-32-5, 73 points) won when Drake Batherson banged in the game-winner from the blue paint while on the power play. His 21st goal dented the playoff hopes of the host Penguins, who relinquished the final wild-card playoff spot to the Florida Panthers.
But the shiny, new star was goalie Dylan Ferguson, who denied 48 shots in his first NHL start and handed Pittsburgh a fourth consecutive setback.
“My big focus tonight was just go out there and be me. Don’t try to be anything I’m not,” said the 24-year-old Ferguson, whose career consisted of nine minutes played with the Vegas Golden Knights in their 2017-18 inaugural campaign.
The Senators won in the Steel City for the first time since April 13, 2014.
“He was awesome,” said Ottawa defenseman Jake Sanderson. “They got 50 shots or something? He was dialed right from puck drop. I could tell just looking at his eyes.”
On Tuesday, Ottawa lost 2-1 at the NHL-leading Boston Bruins with Mads Sogaard (33 saves) manning the net. Dylan Gambrell potted his second goal in defeat.
In their final matchup, the Lightning and Senators will meet on April 8 back in Ottawa.
–Field Level Media