MONTREAL — Dominique Ducharme laughed when asked about the prospect of the Montreal Canadiens having to fly into Tampa on Tuesday with Tropical Storm Elsa bearing down on Florida’s west coast.
The coach said it’s the latest example of adversity his team will have to overcome this season.
“It’s no surprise anymore,” Ducharme said. “Anything that happens right now and for a while, we just take it and look at it and say, ‘It’s probably our destiny.’
“It’s been crazy but we’re a crazy bunch of guys in here.”
The chaotic ride the Canadiens have been on during their quest to win the Stanley Cup has prepared them to take on any and all obstacles, whether it be Mother Nature or the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Montreal ensured there would be a Game 5 in Tampa on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS) with a 3-2 overtime win in Game 4 of the best-of-7 series at Bell Centre on Monday.
Montreal’s season appeared to be on the brink when captain Shea Weber took a four-minute, high-sticking minor with 1:01 remaining in a 2-2 game in the third period. But a successful penalty kill, followed by Josh Anderson‘s goal 58 seconds later at 3:57 , symbolized the Canadiens’ never-say-die attitude that has brought them this far.
“This whole season has been kind of chaotic, kind of hectic,” forward Corey Perry said. “We’ve kind of gone through everything between COVID, the way we played some nights to everything. And now, yeah you’re right, we are potentially going into a hurricane.
“Hopefully we get there, we get there safe and we get to play that game tomorrow night and then come back here. So you know we’re looking forward to the challenge that’s ahead of us and we’ll be ready.”
Ducharme knows all about adversity. Having stepped in as coach when Claude Julien was fired on Feb. 24, he tested positive for COVID-19 on June 18 and had to quarantine for 14 days, missing six games, including the first two games of the Cup Final.
It wasn’t the first time COVID-19 impacted the Canadiens.
Montreal had four regular-season games postponed from March 22-28 when forwards Joel Armia and Jesperi Kotkaniemi were placed in protocol. The Canadiens finished the season with 25 games in 43 days.
They entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs as underdogs against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round and trailed 3-1 in the series before rebounding to win the final three games. With the win on Monday, the Canadiens are 4-0 in elimination games and 6-1 in overtime.
Their biggest test has come against the Lightning, who outscored the Canadiens 14-5 through the first three games and made goalie Carey Price look fallible. However, Price made 32 saves in Game 4 and was particularly sharp in the first period when Tampa Bay had 10 of the game’s first 11 shots.
Perry said Price’s play is among the reasons the Canadiens remain are confident going forward.
“He definitely gave us a chance last night to get our feet wet and then start our engine,” Perry said. “It was a little slow to begin with, they came out, they, you know, put a lot of pressure on us. I don’t know if we gave up too many quality scoring chances, I’ll have to watch again.
“At the end of the day, they did take it to us for the first half of that period, but we found a way to be resilient, he made some big saves, and then Josh got that big goal to really start us and get us going and feel comfortable about our hockey game.”
The Canadiens say they feel the same way heading into Game 5 even though they are playing against history. They are attempting to join the 1942 Maple Leafs as the only teams to win the Stanley Cup after losing the first three games in a best-of-7 Final.
“I think you look at the playoffs as a whole and there’s ups and downs and peaks and valleys, momentum shifts here, momentum shifts there,” Perry said. “You just have to be ready to play that next game. You know they’re going to be playing at their best. So you have to come out, you have to have energy, you have to be confident, you have to play to win and not to lose, and that’s kind of will be my message to the guys tomorrow.”
Perry won the Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 and lost in the Final to the Lightning last season when he was with the Dallas Stars.
“It’s just hockey,” he said. “Have fun, be prepared to work. But at the end of the day, it’s just hockey and have fun.”