Lightning continue to frustrate Canadiens

MONTREAL -- Turns out the team that felt cheated was not the Tampa Bay Lightning on this night, but rather the Montreal Canadiens.

You want controversy? You came to the right place. Tampa’s 2-1 win in double OT had plenty of it.

"It’s really frustrating losing a game on an offside," fumed Habs head coach Michel Therrien after the game. "Those things are not supposed to happen. I thought our players, our team, got a great effort. You can’t ask for a better effort. But to lose a game because of an offside? It’s not like a penalty. A penalty’s always a judgment call, so you can always question the judgment and there’s nothing you can do. But an offside is black or white. And it was clearly an offside. End up losing the game."

He made that point clear in both French and English in separate answers, absolutely furious that it appears Valterri Filppula was offside on Tampa’s zone entry, one step ahead of the puck carrier, Brian Boyle.

And while one can understand Therrien’s frustration, let it also be said that 12 seconds elapsed between that zone entry and Nikita Kucherov's game-winner. There was ample time to get the puck out and make a defensive play.

Perhaps some of Therrien’s postgame bluster was to shield his players, after all the Habs have lost six in a row to the Lightning. They lost on this night despite easily playing their best game of the season against the Lightning.

Perhaps the offside tirade is a way to take the attention away from that?

"There are lots of positives to take out of this game, honestly," Therrien said. "We’re disappointed and frustrated because of the situation, but there’s nothing we can do about it. But what I look at more is the way we played, against the Lightning it was definitely our best game. We were the team that put on the pressure, we followed our game plan practically to the letter. There’s a lot of positive to take out of this game."

One overtime period earlier, it was the Lightning that felt cheated -- at least at the time, anyway -- when Kucherov’s breakaway goal was waived off, the referee determining that the Lightning winger pushed Carey Price into the net with his stick.

So yes, just a bit of poetic justice for Kucherov when his wrist shot 2:06 into the second overtime period beat Price glove side.

"We won the game so who cares now," Kucherov said of his disallowed goal.

What mattered to him was how sweet it felt to make the second one count.

"It’s fun, made the fans frustrated, fun to see the fans go home unhappy. It feels great," said the wonderfully talented Russian forward.

For the record, Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper upon seeing the replay felt the right call was made on the disallowed goal.

Then again, his team won, so no point in scorching the refs; it wouldn't be a smart investment after a win.

All the controversy overshadowed the best performance of the night, that of Ben Bishop and his 43 saves.

But it’s the one Bishop didn’t stop that would have been remembered had his team not rallied, Max Pacioretty’s wrist shot popping in and out of Bishop’s glove and into the net with 5:13 to go in the third period to force overtime.

"It really didn’t bother me that much," Bishop shrugged after the game. "Obviously I felt like I was playing pretty well. You’d like to have that back. I played baseball for a lot of years, so it’s kind of disappointing [to have it pop out of the glove]. But the guys did a good job of responding."

Mostly, he did a good job of responding. It’s not easy when the Bell Centre crowd is all over you after that type of goal, serenading you with derision. It can be awfully intimidating.

But Bishop didn’t wilt.

"Well, he bailed us out enough times early on," Lightning forward Boyle said of his goalie. "How many 10-bell’ers did he have tonight? Honestly. He was unbelievable for us. When that went in, I skated over to him and said, 'Geez, screw it.' He was nodding his head, you could tell he was fine. That’s impressive. He was our best player and we needed him."

Don’t underestimate the importance of Bishop’s performance. The Habs have the best goalie on earth in their net. Tampa needs Bishop’s absolute best to win this series. And they got it Friday night, which is very promising for their chances.

"You want to know why both these teams have 50 wins? A big reason is they’re both sitting in the blue paint at each end," Cooper said of both goalies. "And that’s why you’re probably going to see all these games go down to what happened tonight."

For the Habs, how they respond will tell us a lot about them. It can be deflating to say the least to play this well against a team that’s owned you all season and yet still find a way to lose.

"We did a lot of good things today except win the game," said Canadiens star blueliner P.K. Subban, who had a strong game. "That’s the difference in the playoffs. For us, if we play that way for the rest of the series, I think we’re going to be in a good spot.

"I don’t know if you can be frustrated," added Subban. "You know in overtime it’s going to come down to just one break. They got the break today. I thought in the first overtime we had opportunities to end it and it just didn’t go our way. If we score, we’re not here. I think you’re frustrated when you’re not getting the chances. We had more than enough chances."

Added Habs winger Dale Weise: "If we keep playing like that we're going to win games."

It better start Sunday evening in Game 2. The idea of going down to Tampa down 2-0 is bad enough, the specter of losing a seventh straight game this season to the Lightning would be enough to make you cry Uncle.

A must-win for Montreal on Sunday? You better believe it.