The Canadiens were better in Game 2, there’s no question about that. They dominated possession and 5-on-5 and out-chanced the Lightning, keeping Andrei Vasilevskiy (42 saves) busy all night.
But the final score once again favored Tampa Bay, now holding a 2-0 series lead with Game 3 Friday night at Bell Centre (8 p.m. ET; NBC / Peacock).
Luke Richardson saw improvement in his team from Game 1 to Game 2, but Montreal is running out of time to get back in the series. The Canadiens were better at managing the puck, but like Monday night, mistakes cost them.
The go-ahead goal came with 1.1 seconds left in the second period when Phillip Danault’s neutral zone turnover led to a diving Blake Coleman and a 2-1 Lightning lead.
That was the first mistake that led to a goal. The back-breaker would come with 4:18 to play in the third period when a miscommunication between Joel Edmundson and Jeff Petry behind the Canadiens’ net allowed Ondrej Palat a golden opportunity to make it 3-1.
“These guys are very opportunistic and very lethal offensively if you do make mistakes in certain areas,” Richardson said afterward.
[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 schedule, TV info]
Through two games Montreal has only two goals and while they dominated the shot category in Game 2 (43-23), 10 of those were of the high-danger variety in all-situations, per Natural Stat Trick. Once again, they didn’t do enough to create traffic in front of Vasilevskiy with Nick Suzuki’s goal only coming after a deflection.
“We’re going to continue to get better and we’re going to find our offense and we’re going to start scoring a few goals,” Richardson said. “I think that’ll give us some confidence that way. That means we have the puck more as well.”
Through two game, the Canadiens lead the Lightning 97-74 in shot attempts, but only have one goal to show for it at 5-on-5. That’s not good enough against the defending champions.
The thing about the Stanley Cup Playoffs is it’s all about the fine margins. One mistake can change a game. Montreal is finding that out the hard way. Through three rounds they had been the opportunistic team. Now the skate is on the other foot. If Coleman doesn’t score that highlight-reel goal, it’s a tie game heading into the third period and the Canadiens come out with a different mindset. Instead, they’re trailing after a deflating goal and then need to beat Vasilevskiy at least twice to win.
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Montreal knows what they need to do to score against Vasilevskiy, they’ve watched enough video and read the scouting reports. It’s a matter of execution and finding ways to force the Lightning to be the ones making the mistakes and owning the real estate in front of the Tampa Bay crease.
According to the NHL, teams holding a 2-0 series lead in the Cup Final are 46-5 all-time. That’s what Montreal is facing as they now focus on a very important Game 3 at home. They’ve face adversity like this before this postseason. It’s just a matter of trusting the game plan, executing, and creating their own luck.
“The message is don’t stop doing what we’ve been doing all playoffs,” said Canadiens forward Corey Perry. “What happened in the First Round, we were down 3-1 and we stayed focus, stayed with our game plan, never changed, never did anything and continued to push. It’s no different now. It doesn’t matter First Round, Second Round, Third Round, Final, whatever it is, you continue to play your game, continue to do the things that got you here, you’re going to be successful.
“I said in the room, it’s fun. This is hockey, it’s fun. Enjoy it, but the games are so minimal. They’re so close. You get one of those bounces next game, you never know what can happen.”
2021 NHL playoff schedule: Stanley Cup Final – (TB leads 2-0)
Game 1: Lightning 5, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Lightning 3, Canadiens 1
Game 3: Fri. July 2: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock) – livestream
Game 4: Mon. July 5: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock) – livestream
*Game 5: Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 6: Fri. July 9: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 7: Sun. July 11: Canadiens at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.