LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Tyler Johnson struck twice as Tampa Bay moved to within one win of back-to-back Stanley Cup titles after the Lightning clobbered the Montreal Canadiens 6-3 in game three of the Stanley Cup finals on Friday.
Johnson scored twice on the backhand and Nikita Kucherov delivered a goal and an assist for the Lightning, who scored consecutive goals early in the first and second periods to seize a commanding 3-0 series lead.
“I am extremely happy for the win. I might be happier for Tyler Johnson,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper.
The Lightning can win their second NHL championship in nine months with a victory in game four on Monday at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
Teams that take a 3-0 lead in the final have won 26 of the last 27 times. The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Detroit Red Wings in 1942 after losing the first three games.
“I know how much fun it was last year and I want to do that again,” said Johnson.
The Lightning defeated the Dallas Stars in six games last season to win the title for the second time in franchise history.
The Lightning have outclassed the Canadiens using their superior speed, offensive skills and playoff experience in the Stanley Cup final which returned to Canada on Friday night for the first time in a decade.
Montreal have been offensively challenged, relying mainly on their young players for goals, and their goaltender Carey Price has been outplayed by his Lightning counterpart Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“I can definitely play better. It is just not good enough so far,” said Price.
Vasilevskiy made 32 saves Friday in front of the pandemic-limited crowd of 3,500 as the series shifted to Montreal which hosted its first Stanley Cup final since the Canadiens won their most recent Cup in 1993.
Once again the Lightning got offensive production from their defense as Czech Jan Rutta and Sweden’s Victor Hedman, on the powerplay, opened the scoring with long shots from the point to give Tampa a quick 2-0 lead less than four minutes into the first period.
The Lightning defense have scored five goals in the series, which is as many as the entire Canadiens team has scored. Tampa have 14 total goals which is the most in the first three games of the finals since 1984.
Kucherov, with his eighth of the postseason, scored 1:40 into the second, using his backhand to tip the puck past Price and make it 3-1.
Just under two minutes later, Johnson gave the Lightning a three-goal lead by cutting across the front of the net and putting a backhand up high past Price. Johnson’s teammate Mathieu Joseph set up the goal by using his left skate to slyly redirect the puck over to Johnson, soccer-style.
Defense sparks offense
Johnson scored his second to make it 5-2 at 15:19 of the third with another backhand goal for Tampa, who are trying to become the second team in 22 years to repeat as champs.
Phillip Danault, Nick Suzuki and Corey Perry scored for Montreal, who had head coach Dominique Ducharme back behind the bench for the first time since game two of the previous series. Ducharme finished his 14-day quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19 following his team’s first trip to Las Vegas to play the Knights.
The crowd limit had remained in place after health officials denied a request to increase capacity to just over 10,000. It was a stark difference to Florida, where the Lightning played in front of a full house.
The Canadiens fans saved their loudest boos during the pre-game introductions for Lightning’s Mikhail Sergachev, who crossed the line with two dangerous plays earlier in the series.
The Russian defenceman left Habs’ Brendan Gallagher bloodied after slamming him head-first to the ice in game one, then sent Artturi Lehkonen to the dressing room after checking the forward into the boards with a dangerous play in game two. Sergachev was slapped with a penalty for the play on Lehkonen but not for the Gallagher takedown.