Vincent Lecavalier caught up to the pass at the blue line, swooped in on Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore and scored his second goal Sunday, virtually assuring the top-seeded Lightning would go up 2-0 in their Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series.
“I didn’t know Vinny was there,” Sarich said. “I knew they had three guys coming up, so I was just getting it out there.”
Nikolai Khabibulin stopped 26 shots to improve to 6-1 in the playoffs, and Lecavalier scored twice for the second straight game as the Lightning won 3-1 and put the Canadiens into a deep hole for the second series in a row
Game 3 is Tuesday night in Montreal.
The seventh-seeded Canadiens rallied from a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the Boston Bruins in the first round. Montreal lost the first two games of that series and had just one goal before rallying.
However, the way Khabibulin is playing, coming from behind against the young, confident Lightning could be more difficult.
“We know we can do it, but we also know that we’re going to have to adjust our game because if we play like the first 10 minutes tonight, it’s going to be tough to win some games,” Montreal goaltender Jose Theodore said.
“With the skill they have, they’re going to make you pay.”
Fredrik Modin scored on a rebound for a 2-0 lead, and Lecavalier made it 3-1 when he beat Theodore on a breakaway low to the glove side with just 2.4 seconds remaining in the second period.
Defenseman Sheldon Souray’s turnover set up the goal.
“The ice was so bad tonight. The puck was really bouncing. It bounced right off his stick to me,” Sarich said. “It just helped us get our feet back under us. There’s still lots of time left in the third, but it definitely righted the ship for us.”
Saku Koivu scored Montreal’s first goal of the series in the second period when he lifted the rebound of his own shot over the outstretched leg of Khabibulin.
Khabibulin, who has stopped 184 of 189 shots while allowing just five goals in seven games, had four shutouts in the Lightning’s first six playoff games, including Friday night’s 4-0 victory over Montreal in the opener of this series.
Koivu’s goal ended the netminder’s shutout streak at 93 minutes, 19 seconds, dating to the third period of Tampa Bay’s overtime win in Game 5 of their first-round series against the New York Islanders.
Breaking through against Khabibulin jump-started the Canadiens, who were outshot 10-0 in the first 8:33 and trailed 2-0 before gradually working their way back into it by doing a better job of creating traffic in front of the Lightning net.
But Khabibulin, who’s allowed five goals in seven games, was equal to the task. He rejected shot after shot until Lecavalier’s breakaway restored Tampa Bay’s two-goal lead.
“Obviously that mistake cost us. … It’s a lot different coming in down 2-1 or 3-1 like that,” Souray said.
“I kind of second-guessed the play and just lost the puck. I just bobbled it and it cost us. … We outplayed them for most of that period. When you have a turnover like that and it comes back with two seconds left and they score,obviously it’s a little demoralizing.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman attended the game. … The family of New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner provided tickets for more than 700 service men and women stationed at MacDill Air Force Base, as well as family members of some of the troops fighting the war in Iraq . … The Lightning were 1-for-24 on the power play at home during the playoffs, and 2-for-28 overall, before Lecavalier’s first goal. … Montreal’s Michael Ryder, who led all NHLrookie scorers this season, still does not have a goal in the playoffs.