Victor Hedman, Lightning Beat Canadiens in Game 3 to Take Commanding 3-0 Series LeadJuly 3, 2021
A change of venue didn't seem to slow down the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday as the Bolts defeated the Montreal Canadiens 6-3 at Bell Centre in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. That gives the defending champions a massive 3-0 series lead and puts them one win away from becoming the first team to win the Cup in back-to-back years since the Pittsburgh Penguins did it in 2016 and 2017.
Only four teams in NHL history have come back to win a series after trailing 3-0 with the Los Angeles Kings the last to do so in 2014 during the first round. It's only happened once in the Stanley Cup Final back when the Toronto Maple Leafs stunned the Detroit Red Wings in 1942.
Montreal has now been outscored 14-5 in the series despite peppering Tampa goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy for 74 shots over the last two games. Even with Lightning forward Alex Killorn (lower body) out for a second straight game, the Bolts hardly lacked offense with goals by five different players.
Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay Lightning: 1 Goal, 1 Assist, 2 Blocks
Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Tampa Bay Lightning: 32 Saves, 3 Goals Allowed
Nick Suzuki, C, Montreal Canadiens: 1 Goal, 2 SOG, 2 Blocks
Carey Price, G, Montreal Canadiens: 24 Saves, 5 Goals Allowed
Bolts Blitz Habs
The Canadiens committed the hockey sin of allowing a goal in the first or final two minutes of a period when Blake Coleman scored a one-handed goal with a less than a second remaining in the middle frame of Game 2.
Friday night proved that if even the Habs learned their lesson, they were powerless to stop themselves from repeating the error. Twice.
Tampa's Jan Ruuta broke the scoring open at 1:52 of the first period, spoiling the first Stanley Cup game on Canadian soil in a decade just moments after puck drop. The 1-0 lead didn't last long as Victor Hedman added a power-play goal against the league's best penalty kill barely two minutes later.
It was a rare special teams mistake for the Habs, allowing Anthony Cirelli to screen Montreal's Carey Price without any defender there to move him. It was also the first of many mistakes on the night.
The Canadiens gave up multiple odd-man rushes, putting more pressure on Price than necessary and giving way to a flurry of high-leverage scoring chances, the next most brutal of which came on Nikita Kucherov's goal just 1:40 into the second period.
Ondrej Palat ➡️ Nikita Kucherov<br><br>Make that another multi-point night for No. 86. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/StanleyCup?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#StanleyCup</a><br><br>🇺🇸: <a href="https://t.co/LcI8Hsqs1r">https://t.co/LcI8Hsqs1r</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/NHLonNBCSports?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NHLonNBCSports</a><br>🇨🇦: <a href="https://t.co/0cXuacT6MQ">https://t.co/0cXuacT6MQ</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/Sportsnet?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Sportsnet</a> <a href="https://t.co/ifdxz1WNft">pic.twitter.com/ifdxz1WNft</a>
Again it was the Tampa offense creating an odd-man rush and immediately capitalizing. Again it was Montreal allowing a goal in the first two minutes. And again it was the Bolts refusing to let up, scoring a fourth goal two minutes after Kucherov's eighth of the postseason.
A combination of a relentless Tampa Bay club and a failure to limit mistakes has the Canadiens on the brink of elimination.
Vasilevskiy Strengthens Conn Smythe Case
The prevailing thought heading into the Cup Final was that Price had the best chance to win the Conn Smythe Award as playoff MVP. Price has long been considered one of the best goalies in the league and has Vezina and Jennings Trophies to prove it.
In 17 playoff games before the Final, Price allowed two or fewer goals in 12 of them. He's allowed 13 goals in three games against Tampa Bay so far.
Greg Wyshynski @wyshynski
Carey Price’s 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs save percentage: <br><br>Round 1: .931 <br>Round 2: .941 <br>Round 3: .933<br>Round 4: .835<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/StanleyCup?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#StanleyCup</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/CanadiensMTL?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CanadiensMTL</a>
Instead, it's the goalie playing on the opposite end of the ice who's looking like the Conn Smythe front-runner through three games in the Final. Vasilevskiy has been as relentless in net as his team's offense with the puck.
The 6'3", 225-pound netminder has always been well regarded, but he's playing at his highest level yet. That starts with a sterling 1.89 goals allowed average and 93.9 save percentage in the postseason.
In the Cup Final alone, Vasilevskiy has turned aside 92 of 97 shots faced, but it's the timing of his saves that matter as much as the volume of them.
Tampa Bay has taken a 2-1 lead in each of the first three games of the series so far. The Lightning have scored the next goal in each of those instances. Vasilevskiy has given his team all the support it needs on the back end and then some.
NHL Public Relations @PR_NHL
Andrei Vasilevskiy (32 saves) has won each of his last 11 appearances against the Canadiens dating to Feb. 24, 2018 (regular season and playoffs combined). <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/StanleyCup?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#StanleyCup</a><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NHLStats?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NHLStats</a>: <a href="https://t.co/ehXQkd29i7">https://t.co/ehXQkd29i7</a> <a href="https://t.co/cIiMrGIuri">pic.twitter.com/cIiMrGIuri</a>
He may head back to Florida with the Conn Smythe by his side if he's able to keep it up.
The two clubs will stay put in Montreal with Game 4 slated for Monday, July 5 at 8 p.m. on NBC.