MONTREAL -- A Montreal Canadiens executive walking out of the Bell Centre well after the game ended Saturday night observed that the rink was as loud as it had been in a long time.
Imagine what it would sound like for a Game 7?
The Tampa Bay Lightning have no intention of finding out. But what they do know is that the Habs aren’t going away quietly, Saturday’s 2-1 win by the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge suddenly making this a very interesting series.
“I said it in Game 3 before the game, and unfortunately it didn’t go our way, but I said it’s easy to tell the guys that want to keep playing and you can tell by the effort and sacrifice that guys are making on the ice," said Habs star blue-liner P.K. Subban, who had his best game of the series. "Right now, as part of the leadership group, there’s not one guy who isn’t carrying his weight or looks like he doesn’t want to play. Everybody is on board and energetic and it has been that way for the most of the of series."
A goal by Lightning captain Steven Stamkos briefly quieted the NHL’s loudest arena 9:27 into the third period, and one wondered how the Canadiens would react after such an impressive night’s work, outplaying the Lightning for the most part at that point, but now nothing to show for it with their season on the line.
They reacted, it turns out, like a team that doesn’t want its season to end.
With poise and confidence, the Habs rallied back to take control of the game, leading to P.A. Parenteau's game-winner with 4:07 to go, the Bell Centre crowd shaking the roof with approval.
“This is a group of guys that refuses to die,” said Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien. "They battle hard. There was no sense of panic, even though they scored that goal. Even we got better when they scored that goal."
While Subban and star netminder Carey Price were outstanding, the supporting cast shared the spotlight.
Fourth-line Devante Smith-Pelly opened the scoring 9:01 into the game with a wicked shot under the crossbar behind Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, the Canadiens energized by that goal as they always play better after scoring first.
Parenteau, on a third line once again with Brandon Prust and Lars Eller, sent a knuckler that beat a screened Bishop, easily Parenteau's best moment in what has been a struggle of a first season in Montreal. Heck, maybe the best moment in his entire NHL career.
“I’ve spent some time in the stands this year, it’s happened a few times, which is certainly not how I saw my season unfolding, but you can’t let yourself get down,” Parenteau said in French. "I know what kind of player I can be when I’m playing with confidence, and right now I have confidence in my game, I’m making my passes and plays. I lost that a little bit during the [regular] season, but I know what I can do on the ice.”
It was a childhood dream coming to play for his favorite team. Scoring a playoff game winner?
"Putting the shirt on is one thing," he said. "But scoring that goal is way more special."
And so the Canadiens are now playing the role of the Ottawa Senators from the opening round, winning two straight after going down 3-0, and because I guess they would know, they feel the pressure has shifted now in this series to Tampa Bay.
"It’s not easy, we’ve been there two weeks ago, when you have a three-game lead," said Therrien. "Now, more you play those games and you don’t get the fourth one, you feel the pressure. We’re going to do everything that we can to force Game 7 in Montreal, that’s for sure."
Subban echoed his coach’s comment.
"It's tough,” he said. "When you're up 3-0 and you don't close it out the first time, you don't close it out the second time, mentally it can eat away at you.
"I expect their best game in Tampa. They're going back home, they've played a lot of good hockey there and I expect Bishop to be a lot better."
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper wasn’t buying the "pressure has shifted" theme.
"I don’t know, did you ask that question to Coach Therrien after they lost the second game to Ottawa? Whatever his answer was, I’ll use that," responded Cooper.
"It depends which way you look at it," Stamkos answered to the same question. "There’s pressure for them knowing it could be their last game of the year. The fourth one is the toughest one to win. Everyone in sports in a seven-game series knows that. I’d say it’s pretty even. We’re going into our home rink where we’ve done very well. We have to go prove the last home game we played was unacceptable. I believe we’ll do that.”
To do it, they’ll need to beat a Hart and Vezina Trophy finalist who had that look in his eyes Saturday night.
Price’s glove save on Valtteri Filppula in the third period was perhaps the best of the series.
“That’s why he’s the best player in the league," said Therrien. "And we’re glad to [have] the best player in the league [on] our team. He makes those big saves at the right time of the game.”
Odds are, the Lightning will win one of the next two games. They haven’t lost three games in a row all season, in fact. So there’s that.
But the Habs have a belief that’s growing.
“Hockey is often about momentum, and right now momentum is on our side," said Therrien. "It's very important that we keep it on our side. The players believe. So when you have a group of players that believe, you never know what can happen.”