TAMPA, Fla. — The proper staff for these pandemic instances dressed within the visiting locker room at Amalie Area on Monday night time. Simply because the N.H.L. postseason began to reclaim a scrap of normalcy, with the Canadian bubbles of final summer season changed by video games at house venues — and earlier than frothing crowds, no much less — alongside got here the Montreal Canadiens.
They superior to the Stanley Cup finals towards the Tampa Bay Lightning, the reigning champions, with an interim interim coach, after ousting two of the league’s behemoths, and regardless of dealing with elimination not a few times however 3 times of their first-round sequence. Now, this may pique the good people in la belle province, however in some other season Montreal — which completed within the backside half of the N.H.L., with the fewest factors of any playoff staff — most likely wouldn’t have even certified for the postseason.
“They’re precisely the place they thought they might be,” Lightning Coach Jon Cooper stated Monday morning. “They didn’t go the identical route, so it seems totally different as a result of they seem like the Cinderella staff. However I don’t imagine that for a second. And no person does in our room.”
The Canadiens reached this stage by adapting and adjusting, and if they’re to finish Canada’s nearly three-decade drought and add one other Cup to their heaving trophy case, they need to acclimate once more. They allowed the primary two targets of Sport 1, and the final three, because the Lightning rolled to a 5-1 victory.
At no level Monday night time did the Lightning appear befuddled by Montreal’s neutral-zone choking, its opportunistic counterattacking or Carey Price’s brilliance in net, all parts that propelled the Canadiens’ unlikely stampede. Montreal’s puck mismanagement led to a bevy of turnovers, and Tampa capitalized. Nikita Kucherov scored twice for Tampa Bay, and Brayden Point padded a stellar all-around game with three assists.
Though their efficiency over the previous month — 11 victories in 13 video games — demonstrated that they belonged among the many league’s greatest, the Canadiens may very well be forgiven for desirous to show themselves as soon as extra. The final staff to complete the common season as little as 18th place and attain the Cup finals was Philadelphia in 2010. The following season, Vancouver made the finals, and no staff from Canada had gotten there since.
That could be a supply of nice angst in Canada however particularly in Montreal, which has received a file 24 titles however has not received a championship since 1993, when it toppled the Los Angeles Kings in five games.
On this truncated 56-game season, the Canadiens soared, then slumped. They fired their coach, then their goaltending coach. They misplaced Worth and defenseman Shea Weber to accidents, then Joel Armia to a optimistic coronavirus take a look at. They performed their closing 25 video games in 44 days and misplaced 15 of them, together with their final 5. The playoffs beckoned solely as a result of, taking part in in a one-time division populated by all seven Canadian groups, Montreal completed fourth.
However its common supervisor, Marc Bergevin, is fond of claiming that there are gamers who get you in, and there are gamers that get you thru. He overhauled the roster within the low season and once more on the commerce deadline, buying six gamers who’ve received Stanley Cups, together with defenseman Joel Edmundson, the backup goalie Jake Allen and forwards Eric Staal, Tyler Toffoli and Corey Perry.
The Canadiens, given scant time to apply after Dominique Ducharme — who changed Claude Julien as the pinnacle coach on Feb. 24 — put in his new programs, coalesced halfway by means of their sequence towards the Toronto Maple Leafs. They surprised the Leafs in seven video games, swept the Winnipeg Jets and throttled the Vegas Golden Knights in six, going 7-2 on the highway as they had been propped up by Worth’s brilliance and a smothering defensive effort.
Led by heart Phillip Danault, the Canadiens silenced their opponents’ high scorers in each spherical: Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner didn’t have a aim whereas the Maple Leafs misplaced their final three video games; Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois managed only one for Winnipeg; and Vegas’s Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlson mixed for a grand whole of none.
“Taking part in our sport, to one of the best of our capacity, will counter any staff that we play proper now,” stated Montreal assistant Luke Richardson, who assumed teaching duties after Ducharme contracted the coronavirus. (Ducharme missed the final 4 video games towards Vegas however expects to return for Sport 3 in Montreal.)
However on Monday the Canadiens didn’t play to one of the best of their capacity, removed from it. The Lightning are deeper than Lake Baikal, with 4 strains that rating, smother and grind, and a goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy, who’s each bit as distinctive as Worth.
Vasilevskiy saved 18 of 19 photographs, his solely blemish a second-period shot that pinballed off two of his personal gamers.