Lightning defensemen shine again in Game 3 win against Canadiens

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Jan Rutta floated a wrist shot from inside the right point and it beat Carey Price. Victor Hedman pounded a slap shot from inside the blue line and it also beat the Montreal Canadiens goalie.

Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final was 3:27 old and already the Tampa Bay Lightning had a 2-0 lead.

The reason: goals from defensemen. 

The Lightning moved within one win of their second straight Stanley Cup championship with a 6-3 victory at Bell Centre in Montreal on Friday largely because they continue to get production from their blue line.

“For us as a ‘D’ it’s always nice to get on the score sheet even if it’s not our main goal,” Rutta said. “It’s a good confidence boost. Especially for those point shots, you’ve got to give credit to the forwards, just giving us the puck and going to the net, to those hard areas to take the goalie’s eyes away so we can score.”

 

[RELATED: Complete Stanley Cup Final coverage]

 

In Game 3, Tampa Bay had four defensemen score at least one point (two goals, three assists). 

Hedman scored his goal and had an assist on Rutta’s goal, when he pinched down the wall from the left point to keep the puck in and got support high in the zone from forward Ondrej Palat.

Video: TBL@MTL, Gm3: Rutta fires puck home for opening goal

Erik Cernak and David Savard each had an assist.

In Game 2 on Wednesday, a 3-1 win, Ryan McDonagh and Rutta each had an assist. In a 5-1 win in Game 1 on Monday, Cernak scored and Mikhail Sergachev had an assist.

That’s nine points (three goals, six assists) the Lightning have received from their defensemen in the Cup Final. Since Game 2 of the Semifinals against the New York Islanders, when Rutta and Hedman scored the first two goals by a Lightning defenseman in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they have combined to score 22 points (six goals, 16 assists) in nine games.

“I think everyone in that room doesn’t really care where it comes from as long as we get it done and win games,” Hedman said. “Today was an example. ‘Roots,’ [heck] of a shot, moving screen in front. And then on the power play, same thing, good screen. You have to shoot the puck too for it to have a chance to go in. We do whatever we can to get up in the play and produce.”

Video: TBL@MTL, Gm3: Hedman doubles lead, makes history

The defensemen are doing it with little to no risk involved, which has been as important to Tampa Bay’s success as the actual goals.

Rutta’s shot from the right point came when the Lightning had established possession, and Hedman was already retreating to the point in case the shot was blocked and he had to get back and defend a potential transition from the Canadiens.

Instead, the puck went in and Tampa Bay led 1-0 at 1:52 of the first period.

Hedman’s shot came on the power play when the Canadiens were too busy worrying about forwards Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos in each circle. As a result, the lane was open with no defenders in his way, so he ripped it. 

Lightning forward Anthony Cirelli provided a fly-by screen and Hedman got the goal at 3:27 to make it 2-0.

At 1:40 of the second period, Cernak used a long stretch pass to set up the 2-on-0 rush that resulted in Kucherov’s goal that extended the lead to 3-1.

Savard then played the puck at his feet and pushed it up the ice out of the defensive zone to spring Mathieu Joseph, whose initial shot on a 2-on-1 was saved before Tyler Johnson pounced on the rebound to make it 4-1 at 3:33 of the second.

“When we play defense, it’s all five guys. When we play offense, it’s all five guys,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of guys back there that really can shoot the puck. They’re smart, they get into the open areas and they’re really able to find everything. As a forward, it’s nice when we have that skill back there that we can rely on and it makes the game a lot easier for us.”

Video: Johnson, Kucherov power Lightning to 6-3 Game 3 win

When the Lightning needed their defensemen to focus on defending a lead in the third period, they did that, too, as they’ve done in each game against Montreal and throughout the playoffs.

The Canadiens were limited to a lot of one-and-dones as the puck would enter the Lightning’s zone and quickly come back out, and potential rush plays were quashed either before Montreal could get through the neutral zone or at the blue line.

“I think we were catching a little bit of flack as the playoffs had went on because our ‘D’ hadn’t scored goals, but it’s not always about that,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We’ve really liked the way our ‘D’ have played. … They’re defending. They’re breaking pucks out. They’re making the right reads. They’re a big part of why we had success tonight.”

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