Shea Weber will play for the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup First Round against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET, NHLN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
The Canadiens captain participated in his second consecutive practice Wednesday. He hasn’t played since April 28, missing the final eight games of the regular season because of an upper-body injury
“Skating by yourself for two weeks is not the greatest feeling,” the defenseman said Wednesday. “Being back out there with the guys, it’s like [being] a little kid. You love this game so much, you love being out there with your teammates, with the guys you fought with all year. Now that we’re going into battle in the playoff series, it’s even more exciting. I’m definitely fortunate to be back and looking forward to tomorrow.”
Weber has done significant work with the first power-play unit during practice in the past two days. He scored 19 points (six goals, 13 assists), including 11 on the power play, in 48 games this season.
He’s expected to be on a defense pair with Jon Merrill and could see less ice time than he averaged in the regular season (22:42), at least at the start
“Obviously, it’s going to be his first game, so we’re going to adjust to the situation, keeping in mind that he is coming back in the lineup,” Montreal coach Dominique Ducharme said. “But he’s such a pro. He’s a guy that takes care of himself, works out really hard, is in a great shape. We don’t want to overload any of our players. We’ll keep that in mind for Shea, especially his first game.”
Canadiens forward Tyler Toffoli, who was their leading scorer with 44 points in 52 games (28 goals, 16 assists), said he expects Weber to make an impact upon his return.
“All the guys you’ve been talking to the past few days have said [Weber] is a warrior and he’s going to do whatever it takes to win,” Toffoli said. “I know he was like a little kid [Wednesday] being able to start shooting and playing physical. We had a couple of battle drills for him today and he looks awesome.”
Goalie Carey Price is also expected to play in Game 1 of the best-of-7 series. He played for Laval of the American Hockey League on Monday, making 13 saves on 15 shots in 40 minutes in a 2-0 loss to the Toronto Marlies, the Maple Leafs’ affiliate.
It was his first game action since sustaining a concussion April 19 against the Edmonton Oilers. He missed 19 of Montreal’s final 21 regular-season games.
“I talked to Carey this morning and he felt the same,” Ducharme said Tuesday. “We’re really happy with him getting that playing time and getting those game situations.”
Forward Brendan Gallagher also played for Laval on a conditioning assignment Monday. He had two shots on goal and was minus-1 in around 17:00 of ice time. He missed the final 21 games of the regular season with a broken thumb but is expected to be in the lineup for Game 1.
Forwards Cole Caufield and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and defenseman Alexander Romanov will be scratched for Game 1, but Ducharme said they could play at some point in the series.
“We know [depth] is one of the strengths that we have,” Ducharme said. “For [Kotkaniemi], we believe in him, we know at one point he’s going to be coming in. He’s going to be good, I’m confident of that at the right time. The same thing with Cole. For him, seeing the first (playoff) game and watching like he did early when he first came with us, he watched three or four games and really paid attention. We talked to him about those kind of things.
“The playoffs are a different animal. It’s good for those guys, taking a step and getting everything straightened out and coming in at the right time. I’m 100 percent confident with everyone in our lineup. … It’s about now, the moment, Game 1. It’s about putting everyone in the situations where they can succeed and have an impact on the team when the time is right.”
Kotkaniemi, Montreal’s first-round pick (No. 3) in the 2018 NHL Draft, scored 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 56 regular-season games. The 20-year-old scored four goals in 10 Stanley Cup Playoff games last season.
Caufield, who was the No. 15 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, scored five points (four goals, one assist) in 10 games after signing an entry-level contract with the Canadiens on March 29. The 20-year-old, who played at the University of Wisconsin, led the NCAA with 30 goals and the Big Ten with 52 points this season. He was named Big Ten Player of the Year and won the Hobey Baker Award, given to the player voted the top men’s player in NCAA Division I ice hockey.
Romanov played in 54 of 56 regular-season games this season and scored six points (one goal, five assists). Selected in the second round (No. 38) of the 2018 draft, the 21-year-old was plus-1 and averaged 17:15 of ice time per game, seventh among rookie defenseman to appear in at least 30 games.
“A series is not just one game,” Ducharme said. “We really need our depth. We have good players on our roster. I expect that we’ll use 14 or 15 forwards as well as seven or eight defensemen during this series.”