MONTREAL – The Canadiens are in complete control of their opening-round playoff series with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and it’s safe to say the Bell Centre faithful played a prominent role in lifting Michel Therrien’s troops to their third straight postseason victory on Sunday night.
After a rousing ovation from 21,273 rabid Habs fans eager to welcome their team home after winning two straight tilts in enemy territory, right-winger Rene Bourque wasted little time bringing those in attendance to their feet with a tally 11 seconds into the opening frame on Lightning goaltender Anders Lindback. That goal jumpstarted the Canadiens en route to a 3-2 win and a 3-0 series lead, pushing the Lightning to the brink of elimination.
“It was really important to get on the board quickly, especially at home. We knew they were going to come out strong. It was a huge win for us,” offered Bourque, who scored his third goal in the last two games on Sunday night and now leads the Canadiens in that category during the playoffs.
“It was really loud. You’re so caught up in the moment that you don’t even realize it. We all talked about it after the game,” added the Lac La Biche, AB native, who came within four seconds of matching the franchise record for the fastest playoff tally to start a game which was established by Bob Gainey in 1977. “You could feel the energy, even during warmups. There was intensity in the air, especially during the national anthems, and to get a goal at the start was awesome. It allowed us to take some of that pressure off our shoulders.”
And it let a dynamic player like P.K. Subban showcase his trademark ability to wheel and deal with the best rearguards in the NHL. After feeding Bourque with a long-distance hail mary pass from his own zone for the game’s opening goal, the four-year NHL veteran picked up his fourth assist of the postseason with a remarkable individual effort in Lightning territory that ended with a perfect feed to Brendan Gallagher who broke a 1-1 deadlock at the 18:10 mark of the second period.
“It’s a fun atmosphere to be in. Not very many people get to experience that. I’ve had the privilege to experience that almost every year that I’ve been here. It’s a great place to play. For the guys who’ve never played a game in the Bell Centre in the playoffs, it’s a great experience for them,” confirmed Subban, who led all skaters with 28:03 of ice time on Sunday night.
“Gally did a lot of good things out there, and he did a great thing to get himself open,” continued the reigning Norris Trophy winner, who now boasts 20 points in 29 career playoff games with the Canadiens. “It’s one thing to try to generate and create individually, but when guys react the right way and get open, it makes it easy to give it to him there. It was a huge goal.”
At a time of year when teams are tightening up defensively and goals are increasingly hard to come by, the Habs are finding ways to score those huge goals in bunches. While the Lightning might have played their most technically sound tilt of the series in Game 3 and kept the scoreline close, they haven’t yet found a way to counter the Canadiens’ all-out assault on their bevy of offensive weapons, one that has stymied the likes of captain Steven Stamkos time and time again.
“We were excited to get back in front of our home crowd. Bourque getting going early was big for us. We’re just enjoying the opportunity and having fun,” explained Gallagher, who collected the secondary assist on Tomas Plekanec's game-winning goal 5:43 into the third period. “It’s pretty surreal to be a part of. You can’t hear a thing down there on the ice. They’re standing, they’re cheering the whole time. It’s just fun to be a part of it and play in front of it. You know the fans are enjoying it just as much as we are.”
And they’ll surely like the ensuing statistics even more. The Canadiens have won every single series they’ve led 3-0 in franchise history, and they hold a 21-9 record in Game 4 when presented with the opportunity to send their opponents packing.
That chance will come once again on Tuesday night in la Belle Province.
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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