(Reuters) -The defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Montreal Canadiens 6-3 on Friday to take a commanding 3-0 series lead in the National Hockey League’s best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final.
Tyler Johnson scored a pair of goals while Jan Rutta, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov and Blake Coleman also tallied as the Lightning moved one win away from becoming only the third back-to-back Stanley Cup champions in the last quarter-century.
Tampa Bay took control early, as Rutta and Hedman each scored less than four minutes into the game, and while Phillip Danault responded for Montreal near the midway mark of the first period, it did little to slow down the potent Lightning.
The visitors made another fast start to the second period, where Johnson and Kucherov scored less than four minutes into the middle frame to build a 4-1 cushion.
“Early we were just getting pucks to the net, trying to get some traffic, generate offense that way and limit our turnovers, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that,” said Johnson.
“We had a few lulls throughout the game but at the same time I think we played very well.”
Nick Suzuki gave Montreal a glimmer of hope when he stormed down the right wing late in the second period and used a quick release to send a shot under Andrei Vasilevskiy’s leg.
A turnover led to Johnson’s second goal of the night with under five minutes to play and while Montreal’s Corey Perry responded 39 seconds later, Coleman put the game away when he scored into an empty net.
“It’s tough obviously, we put ourselves in a hole early and it’s tough to dig yourself out of a hole against a team like that,” said Montreal captain Shea Weber.
While a series comeback is not impossible, the odds are heavily stacked against a Montreal team whose hopes of ending Canada’s 28-year Stanley Cup drought are on thin ice.
Of the 27 teams that have jumped out to a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final, the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs are the only one to rally back and win the championship.
Three other teams have done it outside of the Final.
Montreal, who were a 50-to-1 longshot when the postseason began seven weeks ago, rallied back from a 3-1 series deficit in the first round, but their Cinderella playoff run is quickly nearing midnight.
“We don’t have a choice,” Montreal goalie Carey Price said, when asked why he thinks his team can mount a comeback.
“We’ve overcome adversity all season long and our backs are obviously against the wall, so we are going to have to start bringing our best.”
The Lightning will get their first chance to close out the NHL’s championship series on Monday in Montreal.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Jane Wardell and Clarence Fernandez)