Montreal—The Tampa Bay Lightning is getting real close to hoisting the oldest existing trophy to be awarded to a professional sports franchise in North America.
The defending champions Lightning beat the Montreal Canadiens 6-3 on Friday to take a commanding 3-0 series lead in the National Hockey League’s best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final.
Tyler Johnson scored a pair of goals while Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov had a goal and assist. Jan Rutta and Blake Coleman also got into the action with an empty-netter. They are one game away from becoming only the third back-to-back Stanley Cup champions in the last quarter-century.
Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 32 shots.
Victor Hedman and the Lightning are focused solely on finishing the job this year and not resting on last year laurels.
“Obviously, what we did in the bubble last year was very special, and you want to relive that moment,” Hedman said, referring to the Lightning beating Dallas in six games in the final played in Edmonton, Alberta. “But at the end of the day, we’re not there yet. We need to win one more game. And we’re not satisfied until that’s done.”
The Lightning is in position to join Pittsburgh (2016 and ’17) and also has an opportunity to complete the first sweep in the final since Detroit beat Washington in 1998.
Down 2-1 after one period, Montreal came unglued the beginning of the second period.
Defenseman Erik Cernak caught Montreal napping on a line change to set up Kucherov scoring on a 2-on-0 break 1:40 into the period. Deep in his own zone, Cernak sent a pass intended for Ondrej Palat at Montreal’s blue line. Palat ran down the puck at the left circle and hit Kucherov, who smoked it in the net.
Vasilevskiy missed Nick Suzuki’s shot from the right circle beat him through the legs to cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 4-2 with 1:56 left in the second period. He regained his composure and stopped the first eight shots he faced in the third period, including Joel Armia from in close, before Johnson scored his second goal to put Tampa up by a score of 5-2 with 4:41 left.
In Game 2, in which the Lightning won despite being outshot 43-23, Tampa Bay took it straight to Montreal. Tampa Bay has scored the opening goal in all three games and has yet to trail in the series.
“We didn’t want to sit back, especially in the neutral zone,” Johnson said. “I think a lot of it is just our team wanting to be on the attack, and kind of being close. We’re just trying to go for it.”
Montreal face elimination for the second time this postseason after coming back from a 3-1 first-round series deficit to beat Toronto.
A 3-0 hole is even more challenging. In NHL playoff history, only four teams have came back to win a series after losing the the first three games, with Toronto the only one to do so in the final in beating Detroit to win the Cup in 1942. The Los Angeles Kings were the last team to overcome a 3-0 series deficit by beating San Jose in a 2014 first-round series.
Phillip Danault and Corey Perry also scored for the Canadiens that felt disrespected in making its deepest playoff run since winning its 24th Cup.
“Kind of like the whole season, we’ve been underdogs,” Danault said of a team that entered the playoffs with the worst record of the 16 qualifiers. “We didn’t quit the whole year, no matter what was being said. And I can guarantee that nobody on the team is going to quit now.”
The Canadiens, who were a 50-to-1 longshot when the postseason began seven weeks ago, rallied back from a 3-1 series deficit in the first round, but their playoff run is quickly coming to a close.
“We don’t have a choice,” Montreal goalie Carey Price said, when asked why he thinks his team can mount a comeback.
“We’ve overcome adversity all season long and our backs are obviously against the wall, so we are going to have to start bringing our best.”
With a goal and assist, Kucherov posted his 36th multipoint playoff game, moving him into a tie with Chicago’s Patrick Kane for fourth on the NHL list among active players. … Lightning captain Steven Stamkos played in his 92nd playoff game, moving into sixth on the team list, one ahead of Cedric Paquette.