Joel Armia did not play for the Montreal Canadiens in a 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Monday despite being removed from NHL COVID-19 protocol earlier in the day.
The forward did not practice Sunday after being placed in protocol but took a flight from Montreal to Tampa on Monday after being cleared to play.
“I think the decision was made with the organization and the coaching staff that Joel has obviously been sitting at home for a few days without skating, and I’m sure there’s lots of nerves going on with what’s going on in the protocols with the testing and all that,” Canadiens assistant coach Luke Richardson said after the game of scratching Armia. “So we just felt that mind frame flying down today this afternoon, that would be better for him to get him on the ice for the warmup, get the blood flowing. Jake [Evans] has been cleared to play. So that was our decision on that.”
Evans had one shot on goal and three hits in 11:55 playing left wing on the fourth line in Armia’s place, with center Eric Staal and right wing Corey Perry. Evans had not played since June 2, when he sustained a concussion on a hit by Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele just as he scored into an empty net at the end of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Second Round.
“Jake played well. I thought he played very heads-up hockey,” Richardson said. “He contributed on the [penalty kill], and I thought he fit in well with that line of Perry and Staal and created some offensive cycling just like Joel would. So I thought it worked out OK.”
Game 2 of the best-of-7 series is at Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
It’s the second time this season Armia was in COVID-19 protocol. He and teammate Jesperi Kotkaniemi were placed on the NHL COVID-19 protocol list March 22, and the Canadiens had four games postponed.
Armia missed eight games in protocol, returned April 14 against the Calgary Flames, and finished the regular season with 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in 41 games. He has scored eight points (five goals, three assists) in 17 Stanley Cup Playoff games for the Canadiens, who defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the first round, swept the Jets in the second round and defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in six games in the semifinals.
Armia leads the playoffs with two shorthanded goals and has helped Montreal to the best penalty kill in the postseason (91.8 percent). The Canadiens had not allowed a power-play goal in 13 straight games, successfully killing each of their opponents’ 30 opportunities, before Steven Stamkos scored for the Lightning with 1:10 remaining to make it 5-1.
“He’s been great, as all of our forwards have been in our penalty kill, getting up-ice pressure and disrupting the breakouts,” Montreal captain Shea Weber said at Stanley Cup Final media day Sunday. “And ‘Armie’ is obviously a big body with a long reach, and he’s able to kill time off the clock as well when he holds on to possession of the puck and makes the other team get it off him. So we’ll see what’s going on moving forward, but he’s definitely a big part of our PK.”
The Canadiens are without coach Dominique Ducharme, who is required to quarantine for 14 days after testing positive for COVID-19 on June 18. Ducharme said Saturday he expects to return for Game 3 at Montreal on Friday. Richardson has filled in for Ducharme, and the Canadiens have gone 3-1 in those games.