Canadiens’ tough road trip concludes at Tampa Bay

Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens have struggled on their current road trip, but they can end it the right way on Saturday night when they get a Stanley Cup Final rematch with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Montreal has dropped all three matches (0-2-1) to open its four-game road swing that concludes bayside against the Lightning, who won their second straight title by defeating the Canadiens in five games last summer.

The trip has been tough, as Montreal has lost to Florida and Carolina and will now face Tampa Bay — three of the top four squads in the Eastern Conference.

The Canadiens (18-39-11, 47 points) opened the trek with a 3-2 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils. Then they dropped 7-4 and 4-0 decisions against the Panthers and the Hurricanes, respectively.

“We knew this trip was going to be tough for us,” said Montreal goalie Jake Allen, who played in the two regulation losses. “Find a way to improve on this trip and realize what it takes to be one of the best teams in the league.

“This is probably the toughest road trip in hockey right now.”

However, there has been some good news amid the defeats.

Trailing 4-1 to Florida as the contest’s halfway point approached, Montreal found the net three times in a span of 1:42 on tallies by Joel Edmundson, Laurent Dauphin and Christian Dvorak to tie the game after 40 minutes.

The Canadiens couldn’t withstand the Panthers’ high-scoring attack in the third period, but forward Jake Evans escaped serious injury after a hard, head-first crash into the end boards on a breakaway. He had to be helped off the ice.

On Friday, Montreal right winger Cole Caufield was named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month for March. He led all rookies with seven goals and 15 points last month while appearing in 15 games.

The matchup will feature the Tampa return of former Lightning great Martin St. Louis, now Montreal’s interim head coach who will be coaching for the first time against his former team.

The Hall of Famer helped the franchise win its first Stanley Cup in 2004 and appeared in 972 games during his 13-year career on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

St. Louis’ bunch will be facing a hot Lightning side that has won four straight games. Second-place Tampa Bay (43-18-6, 92 points) leads the third-place Toronto Maple Leafs by just one point in the tough Atlantic Division.

In a 5-2 win over the visiting Chicago Blackhawks on Friday, the Lightning got great contributions from the third line of Ross Colton (two goals, one assist), Nicholas Paul (three assists) and Brandon Hagel (empty-net goal).

Paul, acquired from the Ottawa Senators the day before the trade deadline, produced the game’s best moment with a highlight-reel pass on Colton’s second goal.

On a rush down the right side, Paul turned his back to the net, flipped his blade to his backhand and slipped a pass between his skates to Colton for a tap-in tally.

“Right before I got the puck, I kind of saw him flying backdoor,” said Paul, who recorded his first multipoint game with his new club. “The quickest way was between my legs, and it ended up on his stick. Can’t ask for more.”

The Lightning have won both meetings with the Canadiens this season — 3-2 in Montreal on Dec. 7 and 5-4 in overtime at Tampa on Dec. 28.

Including last season’s Final, the Lightning are 17-1-2 in their past 20 matches against Montreal dating back to April 7, 2017.

–Field Level Media

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