TAMPA - The Montreal Canadiens used a three-goal third period barrage to stun the reeling Lightning, 4-3, at Tampa Bay Times Forum on Saturday and maintain their perch atop the Eastern Conference.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, continued to slide out of playoff contention with its seventh loss in the last eight games.
Montreal used two goals in the first nine minutes of the third period to tie the score, 3-3, and went ahead when Brendan Gallagher jammed in a loose puck in the crease with 7:57 left. The goal was reviewed, but stood for Gallagher's seventh of the season, enabled when he wheedled behind defenseman Matt Carle for the decisive poke.
Brian Gionta had pulled Montreal within 3-2 with a power play goal three minutes into the third period. His eighth goal of the season came after a protracted scrum in the crease with Desjardins under a clutch of players and Stamkos laying on the goal line attempting to smother he puck.
Alexei Emelin then smashed in a slap shot from beyond the faceoff circle for his second goal of the year with 12:27 left.
Montreal improved to 16-5-4 and remained atop the Northeast Division and the conference, while a fourth straight home loss kept Tampa Bay (10-14-1) fourth of five teams in the Southeast.
Steven Stamkos' league-leading 19th goal gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead with 14:30 left in the second period. Martin St. Louis had an assist to extend his scoring streak to sixth straight games.
Montreal responded with 12:22 left in the period when Tomas Plekanec scored his team-high 11th goal on a pass from the boards by Alexei Markov. Lightning defenseman Matt Carle couldn't react to Plekanec breaking open in the slot before the center wristed a shot past Cedrick Desjardins.
Tampa Bay retook the lead less than a minute later, however, when defenseman Sami Salo used a blinding screen of B.J. Crombeen to wrist in a shot from the right faceoff circle. The goal was Salo's second of the season.
The Lightning quickly exploited a power play to jump ahead, 3-1, with 7:40 left in the second period, ending a 0-for-9 slide with a man advantage. Just 18 seconds into a tripping call against Plekanec, Stamkos tipped down a St. Louis barrage from the point that glanced off Ryan Malone's leg for his fifth goal of the season.
Desjardins, acquired from Montreal last month in a minor league deal and starting because of an injury to backup Martin Garon, looked ready to beat his former team before Montreal unleashed a ferocious third-period forecheck that completely stifled the Lightning offensively and defensively.
NOTES: Desjardins made his first start of the season for Tampa Bay since being acquired in a trade with Montreal last month. His other two all-time NHL starts came in 2010-11 for the Lightning. Desjardins' starts figure to be scarce with Garon nearly ready to return from a lower-body injury. Desjardins' last NHL start was a 4-1 win against Montreal on Dec. 30, 2010. ... Montreal lost a power play in the first period when David Desharnais was whistled for embellishment/diving on a Martin St. Louis hooking call. ... Tampa Bay has now lost seven of eight and is 4-13-1 since starting the season 6-1-0. ... Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban entered with a five-game points streak. ... Montreal RW Brendan Gallagher entered with a plus-10 rating. ... Montreal goaltender Carey Price is tied for the league lead in wins (12) with Boston's Tuukka Raask.