It’s not a do-or-die game for the Montreal Canadiens, but they know losing Friday’s home clash with the Tampa Bay Lightning will essentially seal their fate in the Stanley Cup Final.
With the Lightning leading the best-of-seven series 2-0 as it switches locations, the Canadiens must find the magic elixir to win and prevent a potential sweep at the hands of the defending champions.
Likely the biggest key for the Canadiens would be to score first. It was Montreal’s calling card to success through the first three rounds of the playoffs, but the Lightning have hit the scoreboard first in both games.
So far, beating Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has been a tall order. Montreal has only two goals in the series, and both were long shots that deflected twice off defenders before finding the mark.
“I don’t think you need the perfect shot right now in this situation,” Canadiens forward Cole Caufield said. “We’ve got to stick to what works and that’s doing the right things that we can control. Getting people in front of him so he can’t see (the puck), getting rebounds, getting guys to the net and stuff like that.”
Montreal head coach Dominique Ducharme will return to the bench after a bout with COVID-19 forced him to stay away from the team since early in the team’s third-round series with the Vegas Golden Knights. That may give the hosts a boost.
“You dream and you work your whole life to be in a Stanley Cup Final,” veteran forward Eric Staal said. “For him to have missed the first two (games), it’s been tough. I know he’s been with us through the Zoom and all the pre-scout stuff and doing meetings that way, but to be with us in person will be huge for us and we’re looking forward to it.”
The Lightning have led by a 2-0 margin in eight previous best-of-seven series and won them all. Even so, they head into this clash knowing they were fortunate to win Wednesday’s clash, 3-1.
“There’s a lot of work to do,” said Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who started his career with the Canadiens. “We can’t be turning the puck over like that … can’t be playing defense like that. Everybody has got to be better, so next game we’re expecting a different team.”
Certainly the venue will have a different feel. While the arena was packed with 17,166 fans in Tampa, Montreal can only have 3,500 fans on hand for the first ever Stanley Cup Final game at the Bell Centre. That won’t limit the excitement of a game in Montreal.
“It’s like a pinch-yourself moment a bit that you have an opportunity to coach in the building and be a part of that environment,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “How much history and memories and books have been written about that franchise? I know the people in there won’t be cheering for us, but I’m sure excited to be a part of it.”
Regardless, the onus will be on the Lightning to play better compared to last game against a Montreal team that will give its all.
“We’re playing a really good team,” Cooper said. “Our team game, we know we can be better, and if anybody has watched us play, you know we can be better. But again, and I said this (Wednesday) night, part of it was what Montreal was doing. They have a say in how we’re playing. You win the first game and you expect a push from the other team and we got it.”
–Field Level Media