TAMPA – The Tampa Bay Lightning began their defense of the Stanley Cup championship on Monday night behind defenseman Erik Cernak’s first goal of the playoffs and two goals and an assist from Nikita Kucherov in handing the upstart Montreal Canadiens a 5-1 loss in Game 1 at Amalie Arena.
Goalie Andrei Vasielevsky won his 13th game of the postseason as he stopped 19 of 20 Canadiens shots while the Lightning defense blocked 15 in front of him.
It was Tampa Bay’s first home opening win of a playoff series this season as the Lightning was 6-0 in all their other home playoff encounters.
Tampa Bay led 2-1 after two periods, but picked up momentum immediately in the third period with Kucherov’s first goal at 2:00. He fired a shot at Montreal goalie Carey Price which the Canadiens’ Ben Chiarot tried to bat down with his hand. Chiarot missed on the puck and then it hit his stick to and fell over the goal line.
It was Kucherov’s first marker since Game 4 of the Carolina series as he did not score in the Lightning’s semifinal win over the Islanders.
“Not much I had to do there,”said Kucherov. “I was just trying to throw the puck at the net and see what happens and fortunately it was a goal for us. I thought that was Pally’s goal. That’s something we need to do more is throw the puck at the net and make so extra traffic there.”
He once again displayed his marksmanship on Price as at 11:25 as he took Brayden Point’s face-off into the high slot and fired past Price on the left as Price never saw the puck and Tampa Bay extended it’s lead to 4-1.
“That’s one of the best players in the world shooting that puck and coming off the face-off circle like that, we have seen that many times,” said Steven Stamkos. “It gave us some breathing room. He’s playing like a beast right now and he is so good.”
This was Kucherov’s third multi-goal playoff game of the post season and the tenth of career as he has tallied 30 points now in the postseason.
“We just stick to our game plan,” Kucherov commented. “Coach is telling us what to do. I think we are doing a helluva job listening to him and doing what he tells us to do. We just put the puck deep and go get it.”
Things got rough later in the third period as the Canadiens obviously were trying to send a message in heading into Game 2 after being dominated so throughly over the duration of three periods.
After Montreal defenseman Joel Edmundson was given a two-minute roughing penalty at 17:20 in the third period, the Lightning would finish off a 5-on-3 power play with Steven Stamkos picking up the goal off of Kucherov’s 23rd assist of the postseason and Point’s third helper of the game.
Point became the first Lightning player in the team’s Stanley Cup history to record three assists in a game as Stamkos delivered over Price’s glove side as he netted his eighth goal of the playoffs and the fifth off of the power play.
Point has 14 goals and nine assists in the post season as his 23 points are second to Kucherov’s 30.
“He sees the ice and it’s fun to play with him,” said Kucherov, of Point. “He has been unbelievable for us.”
It was also an evening of firsts for Cernak as he opened scoring with the first playoff goal of his career.
“Our plan is to try to support the offense and to make some plays from the four of us,” said Cernak of the Lightning defensemen. “We just have to continue doing that and try to make some offense too.”
Ondrej Palat controlled a pass from Point and skated toward the left to draw a Montreal defender from the front of Price. He then snapped a pass back inside to Cernak who scored on the fly to give Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead.
Cernak was the fourth Lightning defenseman to score so far this postseason as he was the first Tampa Bay player to score his first playoff goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I just try to skate the puck to the zone and Kuch did a good job skating the puck to the net,” said Cernak. “He took the defense from me and I just deposited the puck. It was good we got the first goal.”
Tampa Bay opened scoring in the second when Blake Coleman followed a block on a Barclay Goodrow shot at 5:41 in the second period with a shot. It was deflected by Yanni Gourde when he found the five-hole on Price for the 2-0 lead.
“Yanni has an unbelievable motor,” said Lightning defenseman Blake Coleman. “He is non-stop with moving his legs. It’s infectious. You need guys like that and it’s hard to consistently have that energy and legs. When you have a guy like Yanni, you can consistently build on that energy.”
Goodrow had defended a shot attempt from Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher when he carried the puck over the neutral zone and over the blue line where Chiarot blocked his attempt and Coleman followed.
Gourde remained hot as he scored the lone goal in the Lightning’s Game 7 win over the New York Islanders on Friday night.
Chiarot got Montreal into the scoring column late in the second when he fired a shot from the blue line that ricocheted off of Anthony Cirelli’s stick at 17:40. It cut the Lightning lead to 2-1 after two periods as Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Shea Weber picked up the assists which turned the momentum for at least the rest of the period.
The Lightning outshot the Canadiens, 27-19, as Cernak, Point, Gourde and Stamkos recorded three shots each.