Flash Points: Lightning’s rally comes up short in season-ending loss

There was the furious comeback, then a disappointing end.

There was the notable rally, then a rough way to close a memorable year.

There will be the what-ifs, then a realization that the Tampa Bay Lightning accomplished more than many thought possible back in training camp with a young coach, new chemistry and obstacle after obstacle to come.

The Lightning’s season ended with a 4-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday at Bell Centre in Game 4 of this Eastern Conference quarterfinals series. Winger Max Pacioretty’s power-play goal with 42.6 seconds left was the cold, hard difference. There will be talk about whether the two-minute tripping call on center Cedric Paquette was right or wrong or a product of poor timing. That will be a discussion that lingers awhile.

But like other times this series, the Lightning placed themselves in an unnecessary hole. They trailed 3-1 after the second period without much urgency to show for it. Goaltender Anders Lindback was pulled for Kristers Gudlevskis after winger Brendan Gallagher gave the Canadiens that two-goal edge 5:42 into the second.

Then the third period started, and something interesting happened. The Lightning revealed spark. They showed energy. They created pressure. They played like a group that understood their survival dangled in the balance.

Defenseman Victor Hedman scored. So did center Tyler Johnson. They pushed the Canadiens to the brink.

But it wasn’t enough. That’s the memory. There will be many things recalled about this series: Goaltender Ben Bishop’s absence, winger Ryan Callahan’s disallowed goal in Game 3, the late tripping penalty in Game 4.

The Lightning had a whirlwind of a season. Tuesday night, the ride stopped, earlier than they and many others thought would happen. There will be time to regroup. There will be time to learn. But for now, the conclusion feels sudden.

Here’s a quick look back …

THE TURNING POINT

Paquette was called for tripping defenseman Francis Bouillon with 2:11 left in the third period. Tampa Bay’s penalty kill did a fine job until Pacioretty scored the decisive goal against Gudlevskis with 42.6 seconds left. So much was let go earlier in the game, though. It was curious a call was made that late.

STAR OF THE GAME

Pacioretty. Someone had to make the decisive goal after Tampa Bay’s strong comeback in the third period. Gudlevskis was difficult to solve, but Pacioretty found an opening to slip the puck past the young goaltender for the series-clinching score. Montreal avoids returning to Tampa.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT

WHAT IT MEANS

It’s a disappointing conclusion for the Lightning. Rallying from a 3-0 series deficit looked daunting, but it wasn’t a stretch to anticipate a Game 5 on Thursday at Tampa Bay Times Forum. Many will wonder what this series would have looked like had Bishop played. But plain and simple, the Lightning were too sloppy against the Canadiens. Tampa Bay showed spark in the third period Tuesday, but Montreal found a way to win. Overall, the Canadiens were more opportunistic.

WHAT’S NEXT

The offseason.

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