Less than 24 hours after losing with 1.1 seconds left to fall behind three games to none, the Canadiens skated the Tampa Bay Lightning out of Amalie Arena Thursday night with a 6-2 statement victory to stave off elimination.
"We knew what was at stake," coach Michel Therrien said in French. "I could sense with the players before the game, they were really concentrated and focused. I didn't sense any panic. I sensed a team that wanted to keep going the same way we were playing."
The series shifts back to Bell Centre for Game 5 Saturday night.
So much of the Habs' struggles against the Lightning appeared mental after losing all five regular-season meetings and then the first three of their second-round playoff series. Compound that with the devastating buzzer beater from Tyler Johnson in Game 3 and a quick turnaround, the task was even more daunting.
Instead, Montreal came out flying to end its season-long drought against Tampa Bay at eight games. The Habs avoided becoming the first team in NHL history to get swept by the same team they swept the season before.
"It's too early for our season to end," said forward Max Pacioretty, who led the way with a short-handed goal and two assists. "Everyone feels that way. We love being together as a team. We don't want to go our separate ways for the summer just yet. We need everybody right now because it's no room for error."
The Habs got contributions from just about everybody with six different goal scorers: Pacioretty, Andrei Markov, David Desharnais, Jeff Petry, Brendan Gallagher and Brandon Prust. Six goals were two more than Montreal scored through the first three games of the series.
They chased Tampa Bay starter Ben Bishop after three goals on 14 shots, a stark contrast from when he stopped 100 of the first 104 the Habs put his way.
"I think Bishop sort of was sitting on a horseshoe for a little bit there," defenceman P.K. Subban said. "He's played well, but he's been lucky, as well. I think seeing him being pulled out of the net is a confidence booster for our team."
Carey Price (22 saves) shut the door at the other end to extend Therrien's streak of never being swept as an NHL coach.
Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat scored power-play goals for the Lightning, who couldn't get their act together with the chance to advance to the Eastern Conference final. Steven Stamkos was held without a shot on goal for the second straight game.
"We stole one last game, probably did not deserve to win, definitely did not deserve it tonight, and we got what was coming," Stamkos said.
Facing a deficit only four NHL teams have overcome, the Habs exuded a quiet confidence not about the big picture, but just about one night and what could happen if they could continue to create scoring chances. A couple of bounces early helped, and once the dam opened the score got lopsided.
"Since the beginning of that series, we've played really well five-on-five and we've had our share of opportunities," Therrien said. "Finally, simply, we got rewarded tonight."
Bishop was helpless on Markov's opening goal after dazzling moves and a perfect pass by Subban, and then again on Pacioretty's short-handed goal. The hook came in the second after Desharnais' shot went in off Bishop's glove.
Even though Bishop made a few crucial saves to keep the Habs from running away with it earlier, coach Jon Cooper called on Andrei Vasilevskiy to make his NHL playoff debut.
"It's not his fault. (Bishop has) played a lot of hockey," Cooper said. "I thought maybe we get a spark out of this, but it definitely wasn't because of Bish's play."
Vasilevskiy allowed goals on two of the first three shots he faced and a total of three goals on 26 shots. But given the way the Habs were rolling and the Lightning were scuffling, the goaltending was the least of Tampa Bay's problems.
The Habs' next challenge is also their shot at history. No Canadiens team in franchise history has ever forced a Game 6 after falling behind three games to none, but now players feel some momentum building going back to Montreal.
"We owe it to our fans, we owe it to ourselves to go back to Montreal and give ourselves a chance to come back in this series," Subban said. "It's going to be a tough game for them to win there, that's for sure."
Notes — Brenden Morrow was a healthy scratch for the Lightning, replaced by Cedric Paquette who returned after missing Game 3 with an undisclosed injury. Jonathan Drouin played his second straight game of the series. The Habs did not make any lineup changes. ... Baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs paid Lightning players a visit during their pre-game soccer activities to wish them luck. The Tampa resident who recorded his 3,000th hit with the then Devil Rays wore his trademark No. 12 on the back of a blue Lightning jersey.
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