Canadiens beat Lightning to strengthen chance for wild card

MONTREAL (AP) — Artturi Lehkonen delivered at a big moment for the Montreal Canadiens.

Lehkonen and Max Domi scored in the third period to lead Montreal to a 4-2 win over the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night, keeping the Canadiens within reach for a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

“That was one of our best games tonight,” coach Claude Julien said. “We moved the puck well, we were fast, good forecheck, we were buzzing around the net and extremely disciplined. If we play twice more like that, there’s a very good chance we’ll extend our season.

“There’s not a single guy on this roster tonight that was not engaged.”

Montreal moved into a tie with Columbus for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference, one point behind Carolina. The Blue Jackets lost 6-2 to Boston, and the Hurricanes rolled to a 4-1 win at Toronto.

The Blue Jackets hold the tiebreaker over the Canadiens. Each team has two games left on the schedule.

Nate Thompson and Joel Armia also scored for the Canadiens (43-29-8), who improved to 6-1-1 in their last eight games. Carey Price stopped 22 shots for his 35th win of the season.

Steven Stamkos and Cedric Paquette scored for the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Lightning (60-16-4), who were playing their third game in four nights.

Third-string goalie Edward Pasquale made 41 saves for Tampa Bay in his second career NHL game. Starter Andrei Vasilevskiy was on the bench after playing Monday, and backup Louis Domingue is out with a lower-body injury.

“Clearly they’ve got something to chase and they were desperate,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “They played hard, they skated, and we couldn’t match that. I don’t know who’s picking the stars but our goalie was outstanding tonight. He kept it close down the stretch.

“It’s unfortunate we weren’t better in front of him.”

The game was tied at 2 when the Canadiens went ahead to stay with a remarkable display of hand-eye coordination. Lehkonen batted the puck out of mid-air twice to beat Pasquale at 7:47 of the third.

Domi made it 4-2 three minutes later, making the most of blown coverage by the Lightning.

“Everyone knew we had to play a full 60 minutes,” said Domi, who scored his 28th of the season. “It’s the best team in the league. They’ve had a pretty impressive year. You’re never really safe against that team. That’s how we played. A lot of desperation, a lot of character. Big game by a lot of guys tonight.

“When we do that, we’re a tough team to beat.”

It was a bad start for the Canadiens, who fell behind just 2:28 into the first on an unlucky play. Seconds after Domi turned the puck over in his own zone, Stamkos’ shot from the corner bounced off Domi’s skate past Price.

The Lightning were 39-3-3 when they score first.

Montreal responded by putting immense pressure on Pasquale, who looked shaky to start the game.

Thompson’s first goal with the Canadiens made it 1-1 at 12:23. After Montreal’s dump-in ricocheted off a referee, Paul Byron found Thompson in the slot.

The Canadiens kept pressing but Pasquale grew in confidence with every save.

The 28-year-old Toronto native denied Brendan Gallagher with his glove on a breakaway before stopping Byron on a break exactly one minute later.

The Lightning then grabbed a 2-1 lead 4:18 into the second period on Paquette’s 13th of the year.

Armia tied it again on a superb individual effort at 7:32 when he split the Tampa defense and fired his own rebound past Pasquale from a tight angle.

Both goalies traded outstanding saves in the third period to keep their teams in the game. Gallagher hit the post five minutes into the frame.

NOTES: Tampa Bay was without injured defensemen Victor Hedman (upper body) and Dan Girardi (lower body). … Rising tennis star Felix Auger-Aliassime was in attendance at the Bell Centre.

UP NEXT

Lightning: Visit Toronto on Thursday night.

Canadiens: Visit Washington on Thursday night.