Tampa Bay Sports Day

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning Beat Montreal in Playoff Bid

The Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t dead yet.

With his team’s playoff hopes hanging by a thread, Yanni Gourde scored twice to help the Lightning stay alive with a 4-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night at the Bell Centre.

Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn also scored for Tampa Bay (41-30-10), which sits one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild-card spot and final postseason berth in the Eastern Conference.

The Lightning have one game remaining and the Maple Leafs play twice.

“Everyone, at some point during this push, has contributed,” Gourde said. “Tonight, I scored two goals but then you’ve got Kucherov who scored a heck of a goal. We really played well tonight. It’s a whole team effort.”
Dwight King and Artturi Lehkonen scored for Montreal (46-26-9), which closes out its regular season on Saturday in Detroit.

The Canadiens have been playing out the string after locking up the Atlantic Division title at the start of the week.

“They did (play well), but we played really poorly as well so we’ve got try and erase that from our memory,” captain Max Pacioretty said. “I know we don’t have our full lineup and I know what’s at stake for them as opposed to us, so we don’t want to make excuses but they had five breakaways. That’s just not us.”

Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 27 shots for Tampa Bay. Carey Price made 18 saves for Montreal.

Tampa Bay’s desperation was on full display early. The Lightning jumped out to a 6-0 shot advantage before the game was four minutes old. But Price was ready, coming up with several big stops, including back-to-back saves on Kucherov and Michael Bournival.

“It was important for us to come out strong and we did,” said Gourde, who now has five goals in seven games. “That made a difference, and we were able to keep that momentum going.”

A fortunate bounce set the table for the Lightning to open the scoring at 11:42 of the first period. Kucherov skated down the ice before cutting into the slot. His shot hit the crossbar and bounced out to Gourde in the right circle, who quickly wired it into an open net.

Kucherov put Tampa Bay up by two with 10 seconds remaining in the period. Ondrej Palat sent a Hail Mary pass through from inside his own end to Kucherov at the Canadiens’ blue line, who then sniped his 40th goal of the season from the bottom of the left circle.

King notched his first goal in a Canadiens’ uniform to cut the lead in half at 9:59 of the second. Lehkonen took advantage of a slow change by the Lightning for a stretch pass out to King, who was coming on the ice, and the winger skated in alone to beat Vasilevskiy five-hole.

“I kind of looked up when I got the puck and saw that he was there,” Lehkonen said. “I was pretty gassed at that moment so I was just trying to get the puck to him and get to the bench. At the time, it was a really big goal for our team.”

Killorn restored the two-goal lead less than five minutes later when he outskated Brandon Davidson before lifting the puck upstairs.

Lehkonen brought Montreal within one at 4:36 of the third with a short-handed strike from the goal line that went top shelf into the net.

But Gourde once again put Tampa Bay ahead by two just 21 seconds later when he was uncovered in the left circle to convert a Cory Conacher feed.

“You try and think of guys that have come up along the same path, starting in the ECHL and you just grind away and your time comes and you make the best of it,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “That’s what he’s doing right now. We’d be hard-pressed to be standing here doing this interview if it wasn’t for his contributions.”

NOTES: Canadiens D Brandon Davidson played in his 100th NHL game. … Montreal made two changes to its lineup, inserting LW Andreas Martinsen and C/W Michael McCarron in place of C Torrey Mitchell and RW Bryan Flynn. … The Lightning were without C Tyler Johnson, RW J.T. Brown and D Jason Garrison, all sidelined with lower-body injuries. … Tampa Bay dressed the same lineup as Thursday night, leaving RW Joel Vermin as the lone healthy scratch. … Montreal D Andrei Markov played in his 990th career game, 89 games more than his five defensive teammates combined (901).