By Dory LeBlanc
The Tampa Bay Times Forum had a playoff atmosphere Tuesday night as the Lightning hosted the Canadiens and with good reason: the two teams will likely meet in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Tampa Bay got one step closer to having home ice advantage when that time comes after defeating Montreal 3-1.
The Habs jumped on board at 10:18 of the first after Ryan Callahan. Valtteri Filppula, and Ondrej Palat were fighting in front of the Montreal net to sneak one past Canadiens goalie Carey Price, but Price refused to allow anything past the crease and on Montreal's subsequent possession Brendan Gallagher knocked in a rebound to make it 1-0 Canadiens.
The Lightning took 21 minutes to knot it up after Callahan drew a tripping penalty, then scored the equalizer on a beatiful backhander for his tenth point in 14 games since suiting up for Tampa Bay.
It appeared the Lightning got the go-ahead after Teddy Purcell finally got the puck past Price, but the officials waved the goal off, claiming the Canadiens' netminder was interfered with by J.T. Brown. Replays in the Forum showed he was touched by Brown after the puck was clearly in the net, but the refs refused to overturn the no-goal call and the two teams closed out the middle frame locked at the 1-all tie.
Tyler Johnson scored his fifth shorthanded goal on a breakaway with just over seven to go in regulation, his 23rd score of the season.
Mike Kostka was taken down by the targeting elbow of Douglas Murray and was on the ice for a few minutes, drawing a match penalty for Murray at 2:18 - giving Tampa Bay a power play for the remainder of the third period.
Already having a man-advantage, Montreal made it two after Price was pulled in favor of the extra skater with 1:00 to go, but Brown found the empty netter to clinch the win and a playoff berth for the first time since 2011.
To clinch a playoff berth, the Lightning needed to beat the Canadiens and have both the Capitals (in regulation) and Devils loss, which happened before the end of Tampa Bay's winning tilt.
First Period -
1. MTL - Gallagher (Galchenyuk, Weaver) 10:18
Second Period -
1. TB - (PP) Callahan (Palat, Hedman) 9:19
Third Period -
1. TB - (SH) Johnson (Unassisted) 12:41
2. TB - Killorn (Palat) 19:15
Shootout Tally: N/A
Shots On Goal:
MTL - 33
TB - 26
MTL - (1) Eller - Holding; (2) Bouillon - Tripping, Vanek - Tripping; (3) Eller - Tripping, Markov - Hooking, Emelin - Tripping, Emelin - Slashing, Weaver - Roughing, Murray - Match Penalty
TB - (1) Lightning - Too Many Men (served by Malone); (2) Gudas - Holding, Filppula - Tripping; (3) Thompson - Boarding, Johnson - Roughing (2 - 4:00)
Next up for the Bolts: Tampa Bay plays game 2 of their six-game home stand Thursday, April 3rd at 7:30 pm against the Calgary Flames. You can catch all of the action on sister station 970 WFLA with Hall of Famer Phil Esposito and Dave Mishkin giving the call with coverage beginning at 7:00pm.