Who played well in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final? Sometimes it’s easy to tell, sometimes it isn’t. NHL.com graded the players in the 6-3 victory by the Tampa Bay Lightning against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre in Montreal on Friday. The Lightning lead the best-of-7 series 3-0 and can win the Stanley Cup for the second straight season with a win in Game 4 on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS). Here are the players and trends that stood out the most.
Nikita Kucherov (Lightning) — After a rare off night when he didn’t score a point in Game 2, Kucherov had a goal and an assist Friday to increase his Stanley Cup Playoff point total to 32 (eight goals, 24 assists) in 21 games. Kucherov is nine points ahead of linemate Brayden Point (14 goals, nine assists) for the NHL lead and is in position to lead the playoffs for the second straight postseason after scoring 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists) in 25 games during Tampa Bay’s 2020 Cup run.
Nick Suzuki (Canadiens) — The center scored for the second straight game. His goal from the right circle brought Montreal within 4-2 with 1:56 left in the second period and gave it hope heading into the third. Suzuki was also 10-for-16 (62.5 percent) on face-offs.
Tyler Johnson (Lightning) — Back centering the fourth line after playing left wing on the second line in Game 2, Johnson scored two goals, including the game-winner, to double his total for the playoffs.
Jon Cooper (Lightning) — The Tampa Bay coach’s decision to move Johnson back to his natural position at center paid off after Johnson replaced the injured Alex Killorn in Game 2. Cooper was also able to get the matchups he wanted for much of the game despite Montreal having the last line change at home.
The 3,500 (Canadiens) — Although Quebec health authorities limited capacity to 3,500 fans, it looked and sounded as if there were a lot more than that.
Lightning defensemen scoring (up) — After not scoring in the first 12 games in the playoffs, Tampa Bay’s defensemen have scored six goals in the past nine games, with Victor Hedman and Jan Rutta scoring Friday, and nine points (three goals, six assists) in the Cup Final, including five points in Game 3 (two goals, three assists), with Hedman scoring two points (one goal, one assist) and Rutta (goal), Erik Cernak (assist) and David Savard (assist) with one each.
Canadiens puck management (down) — The Canadiens have had an issue with turnovers and poor decisions with the puck from the start of the Cup Final and regressed more in that area in Game 3. That’s a recipe for disaster against the opportunistic Lightning, who scored twice in the opening 3:27 of the first period to take a 2-0 lead and increased their lead to 4-1 with two goals in the opening 3:33 of the second period.
Mathieu Joseph (up) — Playing the eighth NHL playoff game of his career and second of the Cup Final with Killorn out, the Lightning forward scored his first playoff point with an assist on Johnson’s first goal. Joseph also had five of their 46 hits in 9:48 of ice time.
Jeff Petry (down) — The Montreal defenseman was caught in a poorly timed change on Kucherov’s 2-on-0 goal that increased Tampa Bay’s lead to 3-1 at 1:40 of the second period. Then, Petry’s decision to pinch down from the right point led to the 2-on-1 that resulted in Johnson’s goal 1:53 later that made it 4-1.
Playoff hockey in July (up) — Usually July means free agency, so it was different and fun to watch the first NHL playoff game in the month. (But let’s not do this again next season.)
What we learned
Price can’t cover up Canadiens mistakes
Although Carey Price was one of the main reasons the Canadiens reached the Cup Final, the goalie hasn’t been able to maintain his level of play against the Lightning, allowing 13 goals on 79 shots (.835 save percentage) in the first three games. That’s partly because of the many mistakes the Canadiens have made, but he was able to mask many of those errors with saves in the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Lightning depth is the difference
Tampa Bay has a host of skilled forwards and defensemen, but what has separated it from other teams in the playoffs is the contributions it has gotten from depth players. After third-line forwards Yanni Gourde and Blake Coleman scored the winning goal in each of the first two games of the Cup Final, Johnson, the fourth-line center, scored twice in Game 3.