Habs' fate bolt shut

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 1:44 PM ET


 MONTREAL -- There is not much you can see or hear in a hole three games deep.

 A little piece of sky and some words of regret are pretty much all you get.

 The Canadiens can tell themselves they can play with the Lightning, tell themselves they finally found their legs, their heart, their game, but this morning they are hollow words.

 The Canadiens had their hands right there, ready to claw their way back into the Eastern Conference semi-final.

 But in just 82 seconds, the Lightning extinguished what looked like another improbable Canadiens comeback with two improbable goals.

 They shoved an energized team elevated by an incredible crowd at the Bell Centre back into what is surely an inescapable hole with a 4-3 win in overtime and a 3-0 Tampa lead in their best-of-seven series.

 A goal from Tampa's Vincent Lecavalier with just 16.5 seconds left in regulation time tied it, a goal that saw Lecavalier flick the puck from between his legs.

 A goal from Lightning centre Brad Richards, just a minute and five seconds into overtime, on a shot from below the goal line off the back of Montreal goaltender Jose Theodore, won it.

 "You can call it lucky," said Richards, "or you could call it good timing. Getting big goals at big times is the sign of a good team. Last year against New Jersey, we lost a couple of games in overtime where we felt we outplayed them.

 "Is it luck? I don't know. We got the win and we're not going to apologize for it."

 No, they surely don't have to do that.

 The Canadiens gave the Lightning pretty much all this city has to offer at this time of year: A building bristling with excitement, a conjuring up of previous playoff glories before the game, a fierce and nasty first period, but, in the end, not even all those things and something close to the Habs' "A" game was enough.

 The Lightning took it all from the Habs, sticks in the face, punishing hits, a big comeback by the Canadiens in the third, took it all and still prevailed.

 The Canadiens came back from a 2-1 deficit in the third to take the lead on goals by Michael Ryder and Patrice Brisebois (with just under four minutes to play), but the Lightning would not relent and the finish might have hinted at a team learning to expect great things from itself.

 Lecavalier, booed in his home town, silenced the crowd when he scored -- his fifth goal in three games vs. Montreal -- off a faceoff with a creative move, angling his stick back behind his left leg and flicking the puck by Theodore, who looked ordinary last night.

 "Fancy was the only option," said Lecavalier. "I got lucky."

 In the overtime, a turnover in the neutral zone saw Richards sweep in on the left side, have his first shot blocked and then ...

 "It was a bad-angle shot, but I saw Theodore was looking the other way," said Richards. "I tried to shoot it off the back of his leg. You never know if it's going to go in or not. I tried to shoot it off his leg and it worked."

 So, what now for the Habs?

 "When you score three goals in the playoffs, it should be enough to win," said Montreal forward Alexei Kovalev. "All we can do now is relax. You can play like a kid. We have nothing to lose. We came back the last series from 3-1 against Boston. If we can win (tomorrow night), it will be 3-1 again. Hopefully, we won't make the same mistakes we made (last night)."

 Nope. At the bottom of a three-game hole, there's no room for that.


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