Time was running out and the sellout crowd of 19,204 grew impatient, urging the Lightning to take one more crack at Carey Price.
Tyler Johnson's only shot of the night slipped past the Montreal goaltender with 1.1 seconds remaining Wednesday night, giving Tampa Bay a 2-1 victory over the Canadiens and a 3-0 lead in their NHL playoff series.
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"Honestly, I didn't even know it was that close at the buzzer. ... I wasn't thinking about the time at all," Johnson said after his third game-winning goal this postseason.
"It's just a giant weight off the shoulders because overtime is fun," Johnson added, "but nobody really wants to do it."
The All-Star center scored his eighth goal of the postseason off a pass from Victor Hedman in a stunning finish for the Canadiens, who tied it midway through the third period on Brendan Gallagher's goal.
Ben Bishop stopped 30 shots for Tampa Bay, 8-0 against Montreal this season. The game appeared headed for OT when the Lightning gathered for one more trip up the ice in regulation.
Ondrej Palat ignored pleas from the crowd to launch a desperation shot, instead getting to puck to Hedman. He carried into the left circle before passing through the middle just beyond defenseman P.K. Subban's stick to Johnson converging on Price from the right.
"When we scored our goal that tied it up, they stopped sitting back as much and went a little bit more on the offensive," Price said. "It came down to a good play by them."
The Lightning won their fifth straight playoff game and will go for a sweep of the Eastern Conference semifinal series on Thursday night in Tampa.
"It's a road to four, we just got to third," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "Teams that go through the grind of the playoffs, you know, (don't) paint a Picasso every time they play."
Alex Killorn scored a first-period goal for the Lightning, who were outshot 31-19. Price finished with 17 saves after giving up six goals in Game 2 in Montreal.
"It's not ideal, obviously," Price said of the uphill battle Montreal faces. "Again tonight we hit three posts, and I thought we deserved to win the hockey game. I didn't come up with the save at the end of the game, so we got what we got now."
The Lightning won the opener on the road in double overtime, then scored four power-play goals en route to winning Game 2. Steven Stamkos contributed the go-ahead goal and two assists after going 11 consecutive playoff games without scoring — a stretch dating back to Montreal's four-game, first-round sweep of Tampa Bay a year ago.
Montreal coach Michel Therrien talked about the need for his team to play more disciplined. The Canadiens killed off two penalties — one on Tomas Plakenic for tripping Bishop — and Price made a pair of nice saves in the first five minutes, rejecting J.T. Brown's back-hander and Valtteri Filppula's wrist shot from point-blank range on one sequence.
Killorn scored his third of the playoffs by beating Price from the lower right circle after taking a pass from Stamkos. Meanwhile, Bishop was not tested much in the first two periods, even though the Canadiens outshot the Lightning 16-9.
The closest the Canadiens came to scoring before Gallagher tied it midway in the third was Subban's first-period shot that hit the post. Jeff Petry struck the post nine minutes into the third.
"The only thing a coach can ask is that your team would compete, your team would be ready, and your team will work hard. This is exactly what we did. ... The only thing we were looking for when we came here is try to bring the series back to Montreal," Therrien said.
Asked what happened on the winning goal, he said: "I don't want to talk about a mistake because we're not here to point fingers, and that's the last thing I want to do. I'd better concentrate about the work ethic that those guys showed all game."
The Lightning, meanwhile, weren't particularly happy with the way they played.
"We're excited, obviously you win the game there, but at the same time it's almost disbelief of how the game was turning out," Stamkos said. "You're kind of expecting to go into overtime, regroup and come out with a better effort. They played really well. We were hanging on, hanging on."