Sports

Lightning strike down Habs, move to Eastern finals

Tampa, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Nikita Kucherov picked up a pair of goals with one assist, and Tampa Bay became the third team to reach the NHL's final four with a 4-1 victory over Montreal in Game 6 of this Eastern Conference semifinal.

Ondrej Palat added a score and a helper, with Steven Stamkos posting the other marker for the Lightning, who will head to the Eastern finals for the first time since dropping a seven-game series to Boston four years ago.

Ben Bishop backed up his offense with an 18-save effort.

The Bolts join Chicago and Anaheim from the Western Conference, and their next opponent will be decided on Wednesday following Game 7 of the Capitals- Rangers set.

They did it after dropping the previous two potential elimination games having raced out to a 3-0 series edge.

"I just remember thinking after Game 5 and everybody is telling us that the pressure is on us, we���ve dropped two games," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "But I knew that as we went on in Game 5 and the way we played in that third period, I felt our game was changing. The look in our players' eyes after that game, the calm went over me. I just knew the guys were ready to roll."

Max Pacioretty provided the sole offense for the Canadiens, who had reached the Eastern finals last spring before losing to the Rangers. Carey Price yielded three goals on 27 shots in the season-ending setback.

Pacioretty and P.A. Parenteau were turned away in quick succession on a Canadiens power play with under two minutes to go before the second intermission, and the host Lightning -- already up by two goals at that point -- put the game away on a subsequent power play.

Devante Smith-Pelly was booked for holding with 1:22 remaining in the stanza, then Kucherov slipped a pass in tight to Palat above the right circle and he beat Price to the far side for a 3-0 score only 18 seconds later.

Pacioretty broke up Bishop's shutout bid inside of five minutes remaining by flipping home a Brendan Gallagher pass atop the crease, but Kucherov hit the empty net with 2:01 remaining to seal the outcome.

"I felt that physically and mentally we were drained. It's disappointing but I guess those things happen," said Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien.

Price made 12 saves and Bishop made six in the opening period, but the latter came up with the best of the frame.

The lanky Maine product Bishop slid from left to right across his crease to rob Habs forward Tomas Plekanec with the glove as Palat fell over Gallagher inside seven minutes left in the first.

The Bolts hit the scoreboard just over two minutes later, when a Plekanec turnover deep in his end resulted in Kucherov deflecting a Palat shot over Price's glove from the right post.

Stamkos doubled the hosts' edge at 5:12 of the second, picking up his own blocked shot and scoring from between the circles after Alex Killorn freed the puck in the neutral zone and carried up the left wing.

"This was our Game 7. We just kept looking back at the way we played, especially in the later half of the Game 7 against Detroit and we wanted that same mentality," Stamkos noted. "We didn���t give them much, even in the third, we clogged it up pretty good and that was as good of a defensive effort as we've had all year."

Game Notes

Stamkos and defenseman Victor Hedman are the only two players remaining from Tampa's last trip to the Stanley Cup semifinals, when the club lost a one-goal decision in Game 7 to the eventual champion Bruins ... Kucherov finished the series with six goals, while no other player on either team scored more than twice for the duration ... The Lightning still have not lost three straight games at any point during the season ... Bolts forward Ryan Callahan will be out indefinitely following an emergency appendectomy he underwent Monday ... The Canadiens had been down 0-3 in a best-of-seven set 11 times, but this year marked the first time they were able to win two straight to force Game 6.