TAMPA, Fla. — With star defenseman Shea Weber having a relatively quiet series, an argument can be made that Montreal is fortunate to still be playing in the Stanley Cup Final.
The same could be said about the likelihood of Tampa Bay being on the brink of repeating as champions without last year’s playoff MVP Victor Hedman on top of his game through four games.
Both players had forgettable moments in Game 4.
Weber sat in the penalty box, unable to help his team, while the Canadians staved off possible elimination in the final 61 seconds of regulation and first three minutes of overtime before Montreal extended its season with a 3-2 victory on Monday night.
Weber’s high-sticking penalty against Tampa Bay’s Ondrej Palat put the Canadiens in a vulnerable position, but the Montreal captain was bailed out by one of the NHL’s best penalty-killing units before Josh Anderson won it with a goal a little under four minutes into overtime.
“It shows the character of our group again,” Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme said. “There was no question we were going to do everything we could to kill that penalty for our captain.”
In addition to being one of the NHL’s top defenders, Hedman is a key contributor on Tampa Bay’s potent power play.
But after leading last year’s title run, the reigning Conn Smythe winner hasn’t been nearly as dominant in helping the reigning champs build a 3-1 series lead against the Canadiens.
A big moment for Hedman in Game 4 was being set up in the high slot on a power play only to have his shot glance off Carey Price’s blocker and off the left post with 4:15 left in the second period.
Some 15 seconds later, the big defenseman was set up in the exact same spot and had his blast go off teammate Brayden Point’s right knee. Point was prone on the ice before hobbling to the bench.
Hedman lauded Montreal’s penalty kill.
They’re a good team,” Hedman said. “They’re here for a reason.”
Defensive defenseman Ryan McDonagh has picked up his offensive production as the playoffs have gone on. He helped set up Yanni Gourde’s semifinal-clincher to get Tampa Bay to the final and then in Game 4 made a perfect pass to slide the puck to Barclay Goodrow for a goal.
“Just tried to go to the net and create something and glad that the guys hung around the net there a little bit for a play to be made for Goody to put it in the net,” McDonagh said.
McDonagh has seven points in the playoffs, tied for the most he has put up since being a dominant force for the New York Rangers during their 2014 run to the final. The added value isn’t lost on the Lightning.
“He’s a masterful defender and hard to get around,” said coach Jon Cooper, who also praised McDonagh’s “poised plays” throughout the postseason. “He’s just one of those guys that if we can win this Stanley Cup, he’s not going to get the Conn Smythe voting that other people will, but he surely deserves it.”
Whatever lingering questions remained over Carey Price showing signs of wearing down were answered in the opening two minutes of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.
First, he flashed his glove to snag Nikita Kucherov’s snapshot off Brayden Point’s faceoff win in the right circle 33 seconds in. Less than a minute later, the 33-year-old goalie stood his ground at his right post to deny Blake Coleman’s two chances from in close.
Price’s calm, puck-smothering presence was key in weathering the Lightning’s first-period domination in allowing the Canadiens take their first lead of the series on Josh Anderson’s goal at the 15:39 mark, and with Montreal being outshot 11-1.
“Definitely gave us a chance last night to get our feet wet and then start our engine,” Corey Perry said of Price. “He made some big saves, and then Josh got that big goal to really start us and get us going and feel comfortable about our hockey game.”
Price stopped 32 shots, including four in OT, and was the difference on a penalty-killing unit that negated all five of the Lightning’s chances — including a four-minute opportunity spanning the third period and overtime, with Montreal captain Shea Weber penalized for high-sticking.
It was a much-needed turnaround for a goalie who had allowed 13 goals on 79 shots in the opening three games after Price allowed just 13 goals in Montreal’s six-game semifinal series win over Vegas.
Price deflected the credit to his teammates.
“I thought our guys were playing really well in front of me,” Price said. “We’re doing our best to limit chances and clear rebounds.”
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports