Canadiens play better, still fall short against Lightning

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Montreal Canadiens played better, more like themselves. They still weren't good enough to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Carey Price allowed a pair of second-period goals, and despite outshooting the defending champions by a wide margin the Canadiens were unable to generate enough offense to win Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night.

The 3-1 defeat dropped the Canadiens into a 2-0 hole, with the best-of-seven series shifting to Montreal for Games 3 and 4.

“It’s a little frustrating knowing we played a good game,” Canadiens assistant coach Luke Richardson said. “But we did that last series. We played probably one of our best games in the last series against Vegas and we didn’t come out with the win. And the next game we persevered. And that’s what we plan to do again here.”

The Canadiens played well for long stretches in front of Price, who stopped 20 of 23 shots after yielding five goals in a lopsided loss in Game 1.

The Canadiens do have reason to be encouraged after limiting scoring opportunities for Lightning stars Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos, who combined for seven points in the series opener but none in Game 2.

Instead, Anthony Cirelli, Blake Coleman and Ondrej Palat scored for Tampa Bay, which is much deeper offensively than any of the teams the Canadiens shut down en route to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 28 years.

Montreal outshot the Lightning 43-23, yet only had Nick Suzuki's second-period, power-play goal to show for it.

Coleman's goal, with less than second remaining in the period, put Tampa Bay ahead for good.

“These guys are very opportunistic and very lethal offensively if you do make mistakes in certain areas, and obviously they showed that again tonight," Richardson said.

“I don’t think hockey is a mistake-free game. It’s too fast, it’s not football where you stop and start and redraw plays. ... We’re going to continue to get better. And we’re going to find our offense and we’re going to start scoring a few goals."

Turnovers led to two Lightning goals, with center Phillip Danault’s miscue setting up Coleman’s goal with three-tenths of a second left on the clock. Defenseman Joel Edmundson’s soft backhand pass behind the net gave Palat a chance to seal the victory late in the third.

“The playoffs are so close. A bounce here, a bounce there,” Canadiens forward Corey Perry said.

“I thought we had a good bounce-back game. Had a lot of chances. Just got to find ways to put the puck in the back of the net, myself included,” said Suzuki, who had nine shots.

Montreal has been outstanding defensively most of the playoffs.

The Canadiens did a good job of containing Vegas leading scorers Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty in the semifinals. They also slowed Toronto’s Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in the first round, and Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers in the second round.

The same recipe didn’t work against Tampa Bay in Game 1, but the Canadiens found their defensive rhythm this time, disrupting passes, winning battles on the boards and playing a far more aggressive game.

Kucherov, the playoff scoring leader, was held to three shots on goal — none after the first period. Point, the postseason goals leader, only got off one shot. Stamkos, who has eight playoff goals this year, was also limited to one shot.

Perry tried to put the Canadiens' 0-2 deficit into perspective.

“The message is, don’t stop doing what we’ve been doing all playoffs. You look at what happened in the first round, we were down 3-1,” Perry said. “We stayed focused, stayed with our game plan, never changed, never did anything and continued to push. It’s no different now.”

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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Fred Goodall, The Associated Press

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