MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens are making changes to their lineup to become faster as they try to avoid being swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at Bell Centre on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
Forward Jake Evans replaces Jesperi Kotkaniemi in a rejigged forward group that will feature alterations to the top three lines, and defensemen Alexander Romanov and Brett Kulak will draw in as the third defense pair, replacing Erik Gustafsson and Jon Merrill.
The changes came after the Canadiens lost 6-3 to the Lightning in Game 3 on Friday and trail 3-0 in the best-of-7 series.
Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme said the moves were made not only to make Montreal quicker but to provide more energy. He said reuniting Evans with Paul Byron and Artturi Lehkonen on a line brings a number of aspects to the table that can serve the Canadiens well.
“Speed,” Ducharme said. “They can play against the other team’s top lines. They showed it against [Edmonton Oilers forward Connor] McDavid’s [line] in two games. Brought offense at the same time. Brings energy. Many things as a line that can be doing a lot of stuff on the ice.”
Kotkaniemi has scored eight points (five goals, three assists) in 19 Stanley Cup Playoff games, but has one assist and five shots on goal in the first three games of the Final. Ducharme said he told the forward not to take the decision personally.
“I took the time to sit down with him and explain,” he said. “Again, it’s not a punishment. Every player wants to play, wants to be on the ice. That’s normal. We have 28 guys right now and they all want to be on the ice. That we all understand. It’s just a matter of options that we have in the team and what we want to achieve.”
Tyler Toffoli will move to the first line and take Lehkonen’s spot alongside Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. Josh Anderson, who had been on the third line with Byron and Kotkaniemi, will slot into Toffoli’s spot on the second line with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield.
The only line remaining intact from Game 3 is the fourth line of Joel Armia, Eric Staal and Corey Perry.
Ducharme said the changes among the defensemen were made for the same reason as the changes at forward, to increase team speed.
“What we want to see is we want to bring a little more skating on our back end with those two guys, and we feel it’s important against [the Lightning] tonight,” he said.
Even with the changes the Canadiens face a daunting task. The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the Final, winning four consecutive games against the Detroit Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup.