Flash Points: Lightning pushed to brink with Game 3 loss to Canadiens

Andrew Astleford breaks down what happened during the Tampa Bay Lightning's Game 3 loss on the road to the Canadiens, a defeat that has them staring elimination in the face heading into Game 4.

Andrew Astleford breaks down what happened during the Tampa Bay Lightning's Game 3 loss on the road to the Canadiens, a defeat that has them staring elimination in the face heading into Game 4.

The Bolts are on the brink.

Are the officials to blame?

It will be convenient for some to point to a disallowed goal from winger Ryan Callahan in the second period Sunday as the reason the Tampa Bay Lightning lost 3-2 and fell behind 3-0 in their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series against the Montreal Canadiens. In front of a charged crowd at Bell Centre, Callahan appeared to beat goaltender Carey Price to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead. But his celebration ended when an official ruled center Alex Killorn impeded Price's ability to make the save with incidental contact.

The call was confusing at best, given the noticeable delay between Killorn's brush with Price and Callahan's shot. Mostly, the call was questionable.

LIGHTNING PLAYOFF NEWS & VIDEO

LIGHTNING VS. RED WINGS
FIRST ROUND SCHEDULE/RESULTS
Game 1
Red Wings 3, Lightning 2
Game 2
Lightning 5, Red Wings 1
Game 3
Red Wings 3, Lightning 0
Game 4
Lightning 3, Red Wings 2 (OT)
Game 5
Red Wings 4, Lightning 0
Game 6
Lightning 5, Red Wings 2
Game 7
Lightning 2, Red Wings 0
(Lightning win series 4-3)

It's a shame the would-be goal will overshadow such an emotional game. There was plenty to like from the Lightning in this back-and-forth tussle in a memorable Game 3: Improved execution, heightened urgency and their best showing of the postseason so far.

But goals from winger Ondrej Palat and defenseman Matt Carle weren't enough. Would Callahan's near-miss have lifted the Lightning to a key road victory, one that would have assured a Game 5 on Thursday at Tampa Bay Times Forum? Would that score have been enough to propel them past Price?

Who's to say?

The Lightning know this much: They're one loss from elimination. After entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs with momentum, after rallying to secure the coveted home-ice advantage, they have no margin for error Tuesday or in the possible three games to follow if they survive this trip to Montreal. Mostly, they have themselves to blame.

After Sunday, there's room to debate the officials' role in this reality. But there have been too many missed chances by Tampa Bay for one sequence to stand above all.

Here's a quick look back ...

THE TURNING POINT

The Lightning will ask "what if?" tonight and in the hours before Game 4. They appeared to take a 2-1 lead with a goal from Callahan in the second period, but the score was disallowed when officials ruled Killorn interfered with Price. Yes, it's a non-reviewable judgment call. But it's also a shaky choice. It appeared Price had enough time to re-establish himself in front of the net after the contact.

STAR OF THE GAME

Anders Lindback. Yes, he gave up three goals in a loss. But there's no way the Lightning would have been close without him. Allowing Rene Bourque's goal 11 seconds into the first period was something to forget. But time and time again, Lindback was tremendous. This was his best game of the series.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT

WHAT IT MEANS

It's simple. The cold truth is that Tampa Bay is one loss from elimination. The Lightning played some of their best hockey of the playoffs Sunday, especially in the second period, but it wasn't enough to overcome the Canadiens in a hostile setting. Now the season comes down to Game 4 on Tuesday.

WHAT'S NEXT

Lightning at Canadiens 7 p.m. Tuesday.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.