The Montreal Canadiens will review their 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Monday, but they already know which area needs the most work.
“It’s going to be the puck management,” Canadiens assistant coach Luke Richardson said.
Montreal committed turnovers that led directly to Tampa Bay’s first three goals. The first two turnovers came on lateral passes high in the offensive zone that were picked off and quickly transitioned into counterattack rushes. The third turnover that led to a Lightning goal resulted from an errant pass through the neutral zone.
Canadiens goalie Carey Price has covered up for many of their mistakes in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to help them reach this point, but they’ll need to play smarter in front of him in Game 2 of the best-of-7 series at Tampa Bay on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS). The five goals Monday were the most Price has allowed in a game this postseason.
“That’s a team that thrives on turnovers,” said defenseman Ben Chiarot, who scored Montreal’s lone goal in the second period. “They’re pretty quick coming back the other way every time there’s a turnover at their blue line, so (it’s) definitely something we have to be aware of and make sure we’re a little smarter with the puck.”
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It was a particularly tough night for the line of Tyler Toffoli, Nick Suzuki and rookie Cole Caufield, who were on the ice for three goals against Tampa Bay’s top line of Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov.
It started with Point intercepting Caufield’s pass high in the Lightning zone. That led to a rush the other way that defenseman Erik Cernak capped by redirecting Palat’s pass from the left wing over Price’s glove to make it 1-0 at 6:19 of the first period.
Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher committed another turnover in the offensive zone that led to Yanni Gourde‘s goal that gave the Lightning a 2-0 lead at 5:47 of the second period.
“You can’t do that against that team,” Richardson said. “They’re going to counter quick like they did tonight and make you pay. So, we’ve got to just clean up our puck management, make sure we’re laying pucks in behind them and get back to forecheck that we do well and create some more O-zone time for ourselves.”
Montreal cut it to 2-1 with 2:20 remaining in the second when Chiarot’s shot from the right point deflected in off Tampa Bay center Anthony Cirelli and defenseman Ryan McDonagh, but the Lightning converted a neutral-zone turnover into a goal credited to Nikita Kucherov to make it 3-1 at 2:00 of the third period.
On that goal, Canadiens defenseman Joel Edmundson‘s pass intended for Caufield was intercepted by Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev at center ice. Sergachev passed ahead to Kucherov, who skated in on the right wing before throwing a backhand pass intended for Palat in front that Chiarot accidentally knocked into the net.
“Obviously, we knew that they’re a quick team so they’re going to be closing quickly,” Montreal defenseman Jeff Petry said. “And I think puck management can be better and it’s something we need to work on because they thrive on the transition game.”
Kucherov scored again to make it 4-1 at 11:25 of the third period after Point beat Suzuki cleanly on a face-off in the right circle. Steven Stamkos completed the scoring with a power-play goal from the bottom of the left circle with 1:10 remaining for the 5-1 final.
The Canadiens can take some confidence from being in a similar position in the Stanley Cup Semifinals against the Vegas Golden Knights after a 4-1 loss in Game 1. Montreal made the necessary adjustments in Game 2, rebounded for a 3-2 victory and won the best-of-7 series in six games.
“It’s one game of a seven-game series,” Petry said. “So, we have to use what we did in Vegas, that experience, that mindset to rebound and bounce back for Game 2. We’re going to watch some clips on what we can do better, and I think everybody knows that our effort is there. But I think that we can all bring a little bit more.
“I think that’s what we did in Vegas and that’s what we’re looking to do for Game 2.”