MONTREAL (NHL.com) - The Tampa Bay Lightning finally found one obstacle they couldn't overcome: The Montreal Canadiens.
A season marked by the loss of one of the world's best players for four months, the trade of their longtime heart-and-soul leader, and a late-season injury to their goaltender came to an end Tuesday when the Lightning were swept out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Canadiens.
Max Pacioretty scored with 42.6 seconds left to negate a third-period Lightning comeback and give the Canadiens a 4-3 win that ended the Eastern Conference First Round series in four games.
The Lightning scored twice in the third period to tie the game 3-3, but rookie forward Cedric Paquette was called for tripping deep in the Montreal zone with 2:11 to play.
The Canadiens power play was 1-for-12 the series and Pacioretty had yet to score a goal in the playoffs, but both came to life at exactly the right moment for Montreal.
Defenseman P.K. Subban got the puck at the blue line and sent it across to forward Thomas Vanek for a one-timer that was bobbled by Lightning goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis. Pacioretty was there to whack it through the goalie's legs.
It was a dramatic end to a dramatic season for the Lightning.
Tampa Bay overcame a broken leg to Steven Stamkos and a trade request from captain Martin St. Louis to finish second in the Atlantic Division with 101 points, relying on rookies to stay afloat in Stamkos' absence and reach the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Once there, the Lightning could not replicate what had worked so well for them in the regular season, struggling to overcome the Canadiens forecheck and turning over pucks coming out of their zone throughout the series.
The Lightning held a lead for 3:34 of the 258:08 played in the series and struggled to muster much of an attack through most of it.
Goaltender Anders Lindback, starting in place of injured Ben Bishop (elbow), was pulled for the second time in four games after allowing three goals on 20 shots. Gudlevskis came in and stopped the first 16 shots he saw before finally flinching on the 17th.
Ondrej Palat, Victor Hedman and Tyler Johnson scored for the Lightning.
With the Canadiens leading 3-1 after two periods, the Lightning charged back with two goals in the opening 6:31 of the third.
After mustering 13 shots on goal in the first two periods, the Lightning came out for the third with a purpose, playing an aggressive forechecking style they had yet to show in the series until their season was on the line.
Hedman gave the Lightning some life when he banked a shot from behind the goal line off Price's back and in at 3:29. A little more than three minutes later, a J.T. Brown shot from the side boards went off Subban's stick in front and bounced right to Johnson, who buried a shot behind Price at 6:31 for his first playoff goal.
For the second game in a row, the Canadiens scored first. Though it took longer than the 11 seconds it took Rene Bourque to score in Game 3, Briere put Tampa Bay in an immediate hole with his first playoff goal for Montreal at 2:24.
Canadiens rookie Michael Bournival skated the puck out of his end and chipped it to Dale Weise in the Lightning zone. When Weise beat Hedman to the corner, Lightning defenseman Mark Barberio decided to go at Weise, leaving Briere alone behind him. Weise sent it in front and Briere scored his 51st playoff goal in his 112th game to put the Canadiens ahead 1-0 on their second shot of the game.
The Canadiens made it 2-0 at 15:21 when Paquette turned over the puck near center ice to Brian Gionta, who fed Eller for a slap shot from the faceoff circle that beat Lindback to the far post for his second goal of the series.
Stamkos was called for tripping Alexei Emelin at 2:39 of the second, and was incensed afterward because he believed Emelin dove on the play. On the power play, Emelin gave the Lightning a goal with a turnover from behind his net that wound up in front.
Palat grabbed the puck and wheeled around the net to attempt a wraparound that Price stopped, but the puck sat in the crease and was knocked in by Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges in the scramble. The goal was upheld by a video review.
Montreal re-established the two-goal lead 70 seconds later when Gallagher took a Tomas Plekanec pass and beat Lindback with a shot from the faceoff circle to the far post. It ended Lindback's night and put the Canadiens ahead 3-1.