TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos urged his teammates to not play “scared.”
The Lightning responded with their best performance of the playoffs, and now they’re headed to the Eastern Conference finals.
Nikita Kucherov had two goals and an assist, and Stamkos and Ondrej Palat also scored Tuesday night in a 4-1 victory that ended the Lightning’s second-round series against Montreal in six games.
The Canadiens fought off elimination in Games 4 and 5, but were unable to overcome Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop in the clincher.
“We were talking about this game like it was Game 7,” Stamkos said. “We clogged it up good in the third period. It was as good a defensive period as we’ve played.”
Kucherov finished with six goals in the series.
Palat also had a goal and assist for Tampa Bay, which played without forward Ryan Callahan, who had an emergency appendectomy on Monday night.
“Cally’s been a warrior for us since he’s been here,” Stamkos said. “We miss him out there for sure, but we had his name up on the board before the game as a little inspiration, and guys stepped up.”
Bishop stopped 18 shots to outperform Carey Price, who finished with 24 saves.
“I didn’t play well enough,” Price said. “I think that’s more or less what it comes down to. We lost a lot of tight games. I just needed to make that one more save in all the games that we lost, and I didn’t do that.”
The Lightning, who won nine of 11 meetings against the Canadians this season, including playoffs, will face either the New York Rangers or Washington Capitals in the conference finals.
Those teams meet in Game 7 of their second-round series on Wednesday night.
Price, a leading candidate for league MVP, played well in helping the Canadiens climb back in the series after losing the first two games at home and watching Game 3 slip away in the closing seconds for a 3-0 deficit.
The Montreal star stopped several shots from point-blank range — but Bishop was better for Tampa Bay.
“First of all, you’ve got to give the Lightning a lot of credit. They played their best game in this series tonight,” Montreal coach Michel Therrien said.
“I felt as a coach that physically and mentally we were drained,” Therrien added. “I’m disappointed, but those things happen.”
Montreal’s loss means the last of five Canadian-based teams that reached the postseason is eliminated from the playoffs. A Canadian-based team hasn’t won the Cup since the Canadiens did it in 1993.
Kucherov tipped Palat’s shot from the right circle over Price’s left shoulder to get the Lightning started at 15:35 of the opening period.
Stamkos scored from the slot to make it 2-0 early in the second period.
Palat scored on the power play just over a minute before the second intermission.
Bishop stopped Dale Weise on a breakaway with just under 13 minutes to go. He was less than five minutes away from a shutout when Max Pacioretty broke through for Montreal with his fifth goal of the playoffs.
Kucherov finished the scoring with an empty-net goal.
The Canadiens won Game 4 in Tampa to avoid a sweep, then took Game 5 at home on P.A. Parenteau’s goal with just over four minutes remaining to send the series back to Florida with the Lightning clinging to a 3-2 lead.
The teams shrugged off questions about who was feeling more pressure to win, with the Canadiens saying Tampa Bay had to be feeling the heat to close after losing two straight.
And the Lightning insisted there was no need to panic because they still held the series edge and were back at Amalie Arena, where they compiled the league’s best home record during the regular season.
Bishop was on top of his game from the start, making a nice glove save on Tomas Plekanec’s point-blank shot a little over 13 minutes into the game to keep Montreal from scoring first, and then handling almost everything the Canadiens threw at him after Tampa Bay went ahead.
“Our goalie continues to step up in big situations,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “The longer the series goes, Ben just gets better and better.”
Notes: Montreal outshot the Lightning in each of the first five games, but held a 28-19 advantage Tuesday night. … Despite the loss, the Canadians have won five of the last seven games they’ve played when facing elimination. … Lightning rookie forward Jonathan Drouin, one of the options Cooper considered for replacing Callahan, was a healthy scratch. … The Canadiens were 0 for 2 on the power play Tuesday night, finishing 2 for 36 for the playoffs.
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.