December 29, 2017 / 3:47 AM / in a year

Red-hot Lightning burn Habs

Red-hot Lightning burn Habs

TAMPA, Fla. — The red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning tied the game with 12 seconds left in the second period, then jumped ahead 30 seconds into the third, pulling away for a 3-1 victory against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday at Amalie Arena.

The Lightning’s top two scorers combined on a highlight-reel goal — Nikita Kucherov outskated a Montreal defender to a loose puck and flicked a no-look backward pass to a charging Steven Stamkos, who beat Carey Price for the tying goal.

“Kuch had some time to look and see who was coming, but Stammer went hard to the net and that’s where you score goals,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s an awareness play is what it was, but they were good tonight.”

Tampa Bay (27-7-2), which is 10-0-1 in its past 11, took the momentum from that score into the third, when Brayden Point poked in a loose puck in front of the net for his 15th goal and a 2-1 lead with 19:30 left.

Montreal (16-18-4) lost on back-to-back nights but stayed close much of the game by stopping the NHL’s No. 1 power play on its first four chances.

Tampa Bay got a five-on-three early in the third period on a pair of Montreal penalties 67 seconds apart, and Stamkos converted with his 15th goal of the season for a 3-1 lead with 15:15 remaining.

Stamkos has scored 10 of his goals on the power play this season. He produced his third multi-goal game of the season.

“They proved it again that it doesn’t take much for them to pounce on a loose puck and put it in the back of the net,” said Price, who made 31 saves. “They’re really patient with the puck and they seem to always know where each other are. You have to be aware of everybody on the ice.”

After a scoreless first period, Montreal jumped ahead on a power-play goal by Brendan Gallagher, who stood next to Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and saw a long, high shot from Charles Hudon ricochet off his glove for a 1-0 lead 3:40 into the second. It was the team-best 15th goal of the season for Gallagher.

Montreal has lost three straight, however, scoring a single goal in each.That’s the worst three-game scoring stretch since the opening week of the season, when they totaled two goals in three games on the way to a 1-6-1 start.

“It’s frustrating — as an offensive player, we’re supposed to produce a number to help the team win and we haven’t done that in a while,” said Montreal’s Jonathan Drouin, making his return to the team that traded him away in June. “I think it’s a team thing and we’re not really getting chances. That’s what’s getting frustrating.”

Vasilevskiy made 31 saves in picking up his NHL-best 24th win of the season, improving to 24-5-1. He went 23-17-7 last season, splitting duties with Ben Bishop for most of the campaign.

With the Canadiens playing the tail end of a road back-to-back, Tampa Bay opened the game with an 11-1 lead on shots in the first seven minutes, but Montreal countered well enough that the Lightning held just a 14-13 edge on shots after the first period.

“I thought Carey Price was Carey Price,” Cooper said of the Canadiens’ goaltender. “I thought he was calm in net. I was worried because he had that look in his eye in the first period. The game changes in 41 seconds — to get that second one right away probably deflated them a little bit.”

NOTES: The Lightning played without D Anton Stralman, who had a lower-body injury and was a late scratch before the game. D Slater Koekkoek was a healthy scratch. Cooper said it’s unlikely Stralman could play again until they start a road trip in Columbus on Sunday. ... Montreal had D David Schlemko miss a second straight game because of illness, with LW Jacob de la Rose and C Byron Froese as healthy scratches. ... Tampa Bay continues a back-to-back at home Friday against Philadelphia, while Montreal goes to Florida for a game Saturday. The Lightning and Canadiens play each other again next Thursday in Montreal.

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