It was a game full of controversy, but at the end of the night one thing was for certain, the Montreal Canadiens held a 3-0 series lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Canadiens opened the scoring just 11 seconds into the game, when P.K. Subban flipped a pass over the heads of all five Lightning skaters, and Rene Bourque tapped into his newly found reserve tank of acceleration blowing by the Tampa skaters and heading in on a partial breakaway.
Bourque made no mistake, firing the puck behind Anders Lindback and giving the Canadiens a lead before the fans were even settled in for the contest. Lindback settled in quickly after the opening shot, stopping the next 12 fired his way in the opening period, including a number of odd man rushes from the Habs.
The officiating was a major story in game three, fortunately for the Canadiens, it was the Lightning who would feel slighted by the refs.
There was only one penalty in the opening 20 minutes, a double minor for high sticking on Lightning rookie Mark Barberio. The call was correct, as Brian Gionta was fouled in front of the Tampa goal with a stick to the face and tackling, even though he did not have the puck. However, the officials both watched it, and looked at the fallen Habs captain for several seconds, and then decided to make the call. It was correct, but it was odd.
The second period began, and less than a minute in Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman was whistled for holding. Strangely, the television replays could not seem to find the infraction, and the play was blown dead with Thomas Vanek of the Habs in full control of the puck.
A few minutes later a scrum ensued at the side of the Canadiens goal with all ten skaters on the ice getting involved in pushing and shoving. Somehow, the referees decided to give Daniel Briere the only penalty, deeming his shove to be worthy of a cross checking infraction.
Ondrej Palat would score on a rebound during the ensuing power play to tie the game at one .Just 25 seconds later, Andrej Sustr would be called for a phantom hooking penalty, as he and Max Pacioretty stood still near the Lightning blue line. Subban was whistled next for roughing after throwing a run of the mill body check behind the Habs goal.
These odd penalty calls on both sides were minor incidents by the end of the second period, thanks to two very controversial calls made by the officials. First, Steven Stamkos was sprung on a breakaway as he received a stretch pass at the Canadiens blue line. The play was blown for an offside call, but replays clearly show the league’s most dangerous goal scorer was onside and had a clear break on Carey Price called back.
Minutes later, the Lightning would put the puck in the net, and thought they had pulled ahead in the contest 2-1. Alex Killorn drove to the Habs net with the puck and a scramble ensued in front of Price. Ryan Callahan gathered the puck and slid it into the Habs goal, but it was immediately waved off.
After crashing the Habs goal, Killorn was in the crease and contact was made with him and Price. After falling, Price scrambled back to the other side of the crease and got a piece of Callahan’s shot but it trickled behind him and into the goal.
The referees gathered, and decided that Killorn’s contact with Price had made it impossible for the Canadiens goaltender to make the save on Callahan and thus, the score remained tied.
The call proved huge immediately, as the Canadiens would take the lead before the end of the second period. Subban took the puck at the Lightning blue line and circled the entire zone before finding Bredan Gallagher with a pass at the goal mouth. Gallagher’s shot found the short side of the net, and gave the Habs a 2-1 edge heading into the final 20 minutes.
Tomas Plekanec increased the Habs lead to 3-1 when he was left alone in the Tampa zone. He picked up the puck on his off wing against the boards and slowly inched toward the Lightning goal. The Canadiens center patiently waited until he found room and then made no mistake, hammering a slap shot just inside the post on Lindback’s blocker side.
The Lightning got one back with just over eight minutes to play when a Matt Carle shot from the point found its way through a crowd and ricocheted off the post before hitting the back of the net.
The Canadiens were able to hold off the Tampa attack, blocking several shots in the final few minutes, and Price stopping the few that made it to the net.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Lightning were left to wonder what may have been if Stamkos were allowed to have his breakaway, and Callahan’s goal had counted.
The Habs on the other hand, are left to ponder their first 3-0 series lead since the 1993 Conference Finals.
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