NHL playoffs: Lightning strike pushes Canadiens to the brink
Best game: Tampa Bay 2, Montreal 1. It's tough to top a buzzer beater. That's what Tyler Johnson provided when he took a pass from defenseman Victor Hedman in the slot and banged it past Montreal goalie Carey Price with 1.1 seconds left in regulation to give the Lightning a stranglehold on this series. Montreal threw everything it had at host Tampa as it tried to avoid a 3-0 series hole. The Habs outshot the Bolts, 31-19, and had more than a dozen quality scoring chances. But goalie Ben Bishop wouldn't bend and the Canadiens got loose defensively at the wrong time. The goal had to be reviewed, making for some good theater near the Tampa bench (below), but the visual evidence was clear and Tampa is one win away from moving on to the Eastern Conference Final for just the third time in franchise history.
Best stat line: 8 for 8. Tampa has won all eight meetings with Montreal this season -- five during the regular season, three in the playoffs.
Best at being worst: Montreal's power play. The Canadiens are 1 for 28 on the man advantage in the postseason. Sooner or later, that's going to catch up to you. Clearly, it has.
Best visual: Tyler Johnson's game-winning goal. Johnson, Chicago's Patrick Kane and Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau are proving that size doesn't always count when it comes to playoff success. Johnson (5 feet 8 inches, 183 pounds) leads the league with eight playoff goals, and the latest just beat the buzzer to give Tampa a commanding 3-0 series lead. Then he celebrated like a little kid.
i keep finding more footage that i need to GIF, I'm sorry pic.twitter.com/qeuDeT60HS— Stephanie Vail (@myregularface) May 7, 2015
Best quote (via the Washington Post): "He's still got that boy strength. He doesn't have that man strength yet. You guys know what I'm talking about." -- Capitals coach Barry Trotz on rookie Andre Burakovsky, who scored both goals in Washington's 2-1 win over the New York Rangers.
Best hope for Canada: Calgary. Wait. What? The Flames were languishing somewhere near Edmonton when the preseason predictions came. Now they're Canada's best hope -- albeit a slim one -- for ending a 21-year national Cup drought. The Canadiens are nearly toast in their series with Tampa and playoff teams Vancouver, Winnipeg and Ottawa are already vacationing.
Best job of breathing life into the Presidents' Trophy curse: New York Rangers. If any team looked like a safe bet to reach the Stanley Cup Final, it was the Rangers. They had balanced scoring, water-tight defense and the kind of goaltending everyone wants this time of year. But New York's scoring has dried up in the postseason (1.78 goals per game), Caps goalie Braden Holtby is outdueling Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers are making critical errors at bad times, like defenseman Ryan McDonagh's careless turnover along the boards that sprung Burakovsky for the game-winner. Instead of playing the puck off the boards (admittedly, there was an official parked there that may have affected his decision), McDonagh played the puck into the middle of the ice. Caps forward Troy Brouwer kicked it with his skate, and got the puck up to Burakovsky, who netted his second goal of the game -- and his playoff career -- in Washington's 2-1 win.
Best save: Braden Holtby, G, Washington. With Rangers forward Carl Hagelin streaking in alone, Washington defenseman Mike Green hooked him, leading to a penalty shot. Hagelin tried to get Holtby down before moving to his backhand, but Holtby flashed his glove to preserve the Capitals' lead. Nobody was more relieved than Green.
Best thing to look forward to Thursday: Sweep? Chicago and Tampa Bay (our preseason picks to play for the Cup) can move on to their respective conference finals with wins over Minnesota and Montreal. The Blackhawks will have to do it on the road against a team that hadn't lost back-to-back games since the mid-January trade for goalie Devan Dubnyk -- until this series. Tampa should get an emotionally drained Canadiens club that lost Game 3 with 1.1 seconds left on Wednesday night and must dust itself off less than 24 hours later. If you're looking for the safer bet, go with the Bolts.