Talk about saving your best for last. It was the Canadiens most complete game of the year during their most important stretch of games of the year.

Granted, with the playoffs looming the Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t have their eye on the prize Tuesday night, but they weren’t so much off their game as to subject to the kind domination the Canadiens presented.

There was no area of the ice that the Canadiens didn’t excel. They controlled two-thirds of the game’s puck possession while outshooting Tampa 45-24. It actual shooting attempts it was 92-52 against the NHL’s best offensive machine.

The intensity of the recent Canadiens has been impressive. Since they were shut out by Chicago 2-0 February 16th (while outshooting them 48-24) the Canadiens have taken fifteen of a possible sixteen points in the standings (6-1-1). The rub is, the streak has done little for them in the standings because the two losses have come against Columbus and Carolina (in overtime). As a result, the Canadiens are still just outside of wild card status and need of help from the likes of the golf-course-bound Rangers, Ottawa, Philadelphia and New Jersey if they want to reach the post season. The computers at sportsclubstats.com tell us that there is now a 36.6% chance of that happening.

CHARACTER

The line was in on only one of the Canadiens four goals against the Lightning but, what a night Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar had.

Gallagher has a high intensity level at the best of times. In this game he was possessed. Maybe a better word is relentless. He led the Canadiens with six shots on goal. He led the Canadiens with four dangerous scoring chances. He and Danault tied for the Canadiens lead in hits with five each.

Danault won 76% of his faceoffs (16 of 21) and did his usual Guy Carbonneau-style checking job. And Tatar again was terrific in all three zones. Up against the high-flying Kucherov/Point/Gourde line Danault and linemates dominated 68.75% of the shots and were 6-1 in high danger chances. Hard to be better than that.

FIRST STAR

I highlighted Artturi Lehkonen‘s contribution to the Canadiens following last Saturday’s win at Winnipeg. It was in full view again in this game.

Making full use of his promotion to the Domi/Shaw line, Lehkonen was great. He scored the winning goal by anchoring himself in front to collect the Victor Mete rebound. When you look at that goal you wonder why he only has eleven goals. He batted Mete’s rebound out of mid-air and then reached down to tap it past Eddie Pasquale. Beautiful stuff. Lehkonen also set up Domi for the empty net goal. Along the way he had five shots on goal, three dangerous scoring chances and he was part of a line that while on the ice, had 75% of the shots on goal. In other words, despite being on the ice for both Tampa goals the line still did it’s job. Claude Julien went to bed Tuesday night very happy with what he is seeing from all four of his lines.

PART OF THE SOLUTION

For this version of the Canadiens, hard work often isn’t translated into goals. That’s where, more often than not, Carey Price enters the picture. He wasn’t particularly challenged through the first two periods but with the score 2-2 in the early stages of the third period, Price had to go to work. In quick succession he made five-bell saves on Adam Erne, Erik Cernak and Point before Lehkonen scored the eventual game-winner in the third period’s eighth minute.

Price has now appeared in twenty-seven of the Canadiens twenty eight games since the All-Star break.

ALSO WORTH MENTIONING

.Paul Byron returned to the lineup and the fourth line, which included Jesperi Kotkaniemi on the left wing, was much better for it. Byron’s speed allowed him to get to the puck first behind the net and he set up Nate Thompson for his first goal as a Canadien.

.Kotkaniemi did no harm one way or the other. No shots on goal, three hits and plus-one.

.Jonathan Drouin put in a better defensive effort than we’ve seen for most of the season but still little of the offensive impact for which he’s being paid an annual 5.5 million dollars. Drouin has one goal in his last twenty-four games.

.Victor Mete had his chances but extended his NHL goalscoring drought to 118 career games. He came close twice. It was his shot that led to Lehkonen‘s game-winning goal, the 20th assist of his two season NHL presence.

.During the Canadiens current eight game 6-1-1 stretch run Price has a 2.41GAA and .929 save percentage.

.Since the trade deadline the Canadiens have posted a 10-7-1 record. Columbus is 10-9-1 and Carolina is 11-7-1.

MOVING ON

You can do the math. With two games each remaining, Carolina has 95 points, Columbus 94. The Canadiens also with 94 but outside of the wild card because of regulation and overtime wins.

While the Canadiens will play at Washington Thursday and home to Toronto Saturday, Columbus will close things out with back-to-back road games at Madison Square Garden and Ottawa. Carolina will close out with a Thursday home game against New Jersey and Saturday in Philadelphia.

Simply put, because the Canadiens trail both teams in that ROW tiebreaker, the Canadiens have to finish a point ahead of one or the other if they want to continue playing past Saturday night.