Erik Cole and his linemates are providing a reason to watch the Montreal Canadiens in the final week of a dismal season.
Big wingers Cole and Max Pacioretty both scored two goals, and their diminutive center David Desharnais had a pair of assists as the Canadiens ended a four-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night.
Lightning star Steven Stamkos recorded four of his team’s 16 shots, but didn’t score. He remained two goals short of 60, heading into a game in his hometown of Toronto on Thursday night. He has two games left to reach the mark.
Cole scored twice in the second period, Pacioretty had a pair of goals in the third and Alexei Emelin also scored for Montreal (30-35-15), the last-place team in the Eastern Conference.
Cole with 34 goals, Pacioretty with 32 and Desharnais with 16 — along with a team-leading 44 assists — have all reached the 60-point mark and established themselves as a consistent scoring line heading into next season.
”It was a lot of fun,” said Pacioretty, who scored for the first time in 12 games. ”It’s important for us to show our fans that we’re not that far from being a contending team.
”We have a good core group of players. We don’t need to shake things up too much to be competitive.”
Pacioretty rebounded from a career-threatening neck injury late in the 2010-11 season after he was checked into a stanchion by Boston’s Zdeno Chara. He is the Canadiens’ leading scorer with 63 points.
Cole was signed from Carolina as a free agent last summer and has been the club’s best player.
The 25-year-old Desharnais, generously listed at 5-foot-7, has proven he can be the same productive playmaker he was at lower levels amid the crashing pace of NHL play.
”That’s why they call him ‘Casper.’ He’s like a ghost out there,” Pacioretty said of Desharnais. ”He finds ways to get the puck in the zone with full control.”
Desharnais called his linemates ”incredible.”
”They’re probably the best two wingers I can have,” he said. ”They’re big, they’re strong and they shoot the puck. It makes my life a lot easier.”
Vincent Lecavalier scored off a gift from Montreal backup goalie Peter Budaj, and defenseman Bruno Gervais added a goal for Tampa Bay (37-36-7), which has also been eliminated from playoff contention.
Montreal outshot the Lightning 25-16 in a game played in front of many empty seats.
Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher called it his team’s worst performance of the season, along with a 3-0 loss in St. Louis in November.
”We just didn’t shoot. We tried the fancy play all night,” he said. ”If you play like that, you’re going to lose. They shot and they won the game.”
Boucher is bothered by his team’s 12-22-5 record on the road, a mark that is better only than the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets. The Lightning’s road woes canceled out the effect of tying a franchise record with 25 home wins.
”At some point, the players have to be better,” Boucher said. ”The game plan doesn’t change whether home or away. What changes is how you perform, and we haven’t been very good on the road this year.”
Stamkos had numerous chances, including six during a second-period power play, but he either missed the target or was stopped by Budaj. Stamkos is trying to become the NHL’s first 60-goal scorer since Washington’s Alex Ovechkin had 65 in the 2007-08 season.
Emelin sneaked in from the blue line, took a pass from Desharnais and scored off his own rebound 2:11 into the game.
Budaj, the Canadiens’ starter now that Carey Price is out for the final week of the season because of a concussion, made a big mistake when he cleared the puck right onto Lecavalier’s stick. The Lightning forward scored into a wide-open net at 7:26.
Cole gave the Canadiens a 2-1 lead 1:42 into the second when he one-timed Desharnais’ feed past Sebastien Caron from the faceoff dot. He then added his 34th of the season by tipping in a point shot on a power play at 14:34.
Gervais scored 3:42 into the third period when his shot pinballed in off traffic in front of Budaj, but Pacioretty got it back with his first in 12 games on a rebound of Josh Gorges’ shot. He added another off a rush down the right side at 14:59.
Cole has 11 goals in 12 games.
NOTES: Gabriel Dumont, called up this week, played his first NHL game for Montreal against his former Drummondville junior coach Guy Boucher. … Cole played in his 700th NHL game. Pacioretty logged his 200th.