TAMPA BAY – Few teams have bested the Lightning in their own barn thus far this season. After Saturday night’s 2-1 shootout win, you can now count the Habs among those squads that have done just that.
In their first taste of NHL action since Dec. 21, Michel Therrien’s troops kicked off a lengthy four-game road swing by handing Jon Cooper’s contingent just their fifth loss of the year in 19 home games, picking up their second straight win and a valuable two points in the process. The Canadiens also snapped the Lightning's five-game winning streak with the victory, and climbed to within one point of Tampa Bay for second place in the Eastern Conference standings.
“It’s a big two points. We were ready to play this game. I really liked the way that we played. We didn’t give them anything big for the first two periods,” offered the Habs bench boss, who saw his club give up a season-low nine shots on goal to the Lightning through 40 minutes of play. “We put good pressure on the puck carrier. We also hit three or four goal posts. [Lightning goaltender Ben] Bishop made some good saves.”
The towering netminder, however, ultimately met his match in Habs forward Lars Eller. The Dane notched the shootout-winner by turning the Olympic hopeful inside out to lift the bleu-blanc-rouge to their third win in their last four shootout appearances.
“I’ve got a little bit of the inside scoop on him from [playing with him with AHL affiliate] Peoria. He’s a big goalie and a good goalie, and I tried to make a move laterally and go up high and I had enough room to get it in,” mentioned Eller, who is now 3-for-3 in shootout chances during the 2013-14 campaign. “I think it’s about continuously practicing some moves and using them. Have some moves that you know that you’re good at, practice them, make a decision before you get out there and just execute.”
For his part, Carey Price executed to perfection on Saturday night, posting his 18th victory of the season. The three-time All-Star stopped 23 shots through 65 minutes of play before turning aside all three Lightning players in the shootout.
“Those are the types of games that can be difficult, but we were fortunate that we weren’t giving up a whole lot of scoring chances. The Lightning played well in the third period. I thought it was a pretty slow paced game for the most part until the third, and we were able to hold them off,” underlined Price, who made remarkable stops on both Valtteri Filppula and Nikita Kucherov during the shootout.
“The shootout is all about timing. We went over video in practice a bit before the break and we were able to solve a couple of problems,” added the Anahim Lake, BC native, who was staked to a 1-0 lead on a Tomas Plekanec tally at the 5:15 mark of the second period before Martin St. Louis tied things up six-and-a-half minutes later.
In the aftermath of the Canadiens' 23rd win of the season, Eller was quick to give credit to his starting netminder for standing tall during a tilt that could have gone either way when the game was tied after regulation time and momentum seemed to sway in both teams’ favor at one point or another.
“It was a close game. It was an intense, hard-fought game. It was just a close one,” cited Eller. “We had the best goalie tonight, and it made the difference in the end.”
Now, the Habs will look carry that momentum into a game against the Florida Panthers that gets underway on Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m. EST.
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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