Hidden Game: Another good effort, but no cigar for the Canadiens on the road

Despite a 4-3 shootout loss to the Lightning, this team hasn’t quit and won’t play out the string in what will be another non-playoff season.

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Say what you will about the Canadiens or this rebuilding phase under Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes, and whether this organization has made any definitive progress.

But one thing that can never be disputed under head coach Martin St. Louis: This team hasn’t quit and won’t play out the string in what will be another non-playoff season.

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The Canadiens played two of their best games this season on the road Thursday and Saturday nights against Florida and Tampa Bay, respectively — two teams much better than Montreal in the standings.

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Montreal squandered a 3-2 third-period lead against the Panthers before losing in a shootout. Against the Lightning, the Canadiens initially wasted a two-goal first-period advantage, along with a 3-2 third-period lead again before falling in another shootout.

Perhaps the franchise would fare better if it transferred to Key West, Fla.? Relax, folks, we’re kidding.

Milestone: Juraj Slafkovsky was playing the 100th regular-season game of his career.

Three into two never works: The merits, or lack thereof, of the Canadiens’ three-goaltender system has been debated this season ad infinitum. And only time will tell whether one of them — likely Jake Allen or Cayden Primeau — will be traded by this Friday’s NHL deadline. Or will GM Hughes wait until the summer to deal with this predicament?

But we know this much: Primeau, who got the nod against the Lightning, started only his third game since Feb. 13, and only his fourth start since Jan. 18. How can anyone remain sharp when utilized so sporadically?

News you need (Part I): The Canadiens aren’t the only NHL team that has struggled at home. Tampa Bay had lost four straight at Amalie Arena before facing Montreal. Of course, this came after the Lightning had won seven straight on the Gulf coast.

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News you need (Part II): Lightning’s Brayden Point is unlikely to score 51 goals again this season. But the centre, who scored his team’s first goal at 7:44 of the second period, increased his points streak to nine games. He now has 32 goals and 65 points through 63 games.

Strange, but true (Part I): Lightning captain Steven Stamkos at age 34 is still an effective forward. He entered the game with 24 goals and 51 points this season in 59 games, albeit with a team-high minus-25. Incredibly, in seven games prior to facing the Canadiens, Stamkos had been held to one goal. Period.

Strange, but true (Part II): Tampa Bay now has a mediocre 7-7-4 record in its division, one reason it could be in danger of missing the playoffs. They entered play on Saturday occupying the second, and final, wild-card playoff berth.

Strange, but true (Part III): Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed three goals on 23 Buffalo shots last Thursday and lost 3-2 in overtime. The Canadiens beat him three times on 24 shots. Vasilevskiy has only two wins in his last seven games.

That’s how you start a game: Joel Armia converted a two-on-one break to open the scoring at 1:27 on the Canadiens’ first shot.

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And this doesn’t hurt, either: The Canadiens had a 7-2 shots advantage after six minutes.

Pass of the night (Part I): Brendan Gallagher has received his share of criticism this season, but did a nice job of digging the puck out of the corner and feeding Jake Evans for the Canadiens’ second goal at 14:33 of the opening period.

How not to play defence: Mike Matheson and Kaiden Guhle both went to Stamkos, who then fed an unguarded Point on the Lightning’s opening goal.

Pass of the night (Part II): Stamkos to Point.

Two blind mice: Midway through the second period, Luke Glendening high-sticked Evans to the lip, not only drawing a small amount of blood, but also going unnoticed by referees Dan O’Rourke and Michael Markovic.

Rinse and repeat: Not long after, Evans took an elbow to the head from Emil Lilleberg. Again, no penalty was assessed, leading to some justified exasperation from Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis.

How not to backcheck: Slafkovsky could only smack his stick on the ice after watching Anthony Cirelli score the Lightning’s second goal at 15:49 of the second period. Honourable mention to Nick Suzuki on the play.

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How not to play a three-on-one break: Late in the second period, Brandon Hagel appeared to have a clear path to the net with only defenceman Jordan Harris back. Instead of continuing, Hagel attempted a pass that didn’t work.

Second-period blues: The Canadiens now have been outscored 78-59 in the middle period. And they’re no better in the third, outscored 81-58.

The drought is over: Josh Anderson scored his first goal since Jan. 11, deflecting Cole Caufield’s shot at 6:23 of the third period. It was his eighth goal this season.

Next time, decline the penalty: That was a brutal giveaway by Suzuki, his pass intercepted by Tyler Motte, who scored on a shorthanded breakaway midway through the third period and tied the score.

Stat of the night: The Canadiens are now 15-10-10 in one-goal games, while the Lightning improved to 10-2-6.

They said it: “I felt my positioning was good,” Primeau told journalists in Tampa following the game. “My skating was good. My reads were good. I felt like my patience was good as well, but on some of the goals I could have been a little more patient. Two games in a row we’ve taken really good teams on the road to the shootout,” he added. “It’s a lot of good.”

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