The Montreal Canadiens will play their first home game in the Stanley Cup Final on Friday since June 9, 1993, when they played at the Montreal Forum and clinched their 24th Stanley Cup championship.
Game 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning will be the first Stanley Cup Final game played at Bell Centre and the first Canadiens home game in the championship round at a venue other than the Montreal Forum since 1924, when they played at Mount Royal Arena and Ottawa Auditorium.
Montreal is 60-19 as the home team in the Stanley Cup Final since 1917-18, including 23-5 in the NHL’s expansion era (since 1967-68).
The Lightning won Games 1 and 2 in Tampa Bay by a combined 8-2.
“We have to win tonight,” Canadiens forward Tyler Toffoli said.
Montreal hopes the return of coach Dominique Ducharme will provide a spark for a win at home, where it will play in front of 3,500 fans per Quebec’s provincial government and public health regulations.
Ducharme missed the first two games of the Cup Final and the past six overall in a mandatory 14-day quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 on June 18.
“I don’t think the last two weeks changes what it means to me,” Ducharme said. “That’s everyone’s dream to be playing or being involved in the Stanley Cup Final. Just so happy to be back.”
Alex Killorn will miss his second straight game for the Lightning with an undisclosed injury. The forward was likely injured blocking a shot with his left leg in the second period of Game 1. He missed the final 19:04 of the third period and hasn’t played since.
Forward Mathieu Joseph will again play in place of Killorn. He had four hits in 11 shifts totaling 6:23 of ice time in Tampa Bay’s 3-1 win in Game 2 on Wednesday.
“I hope to get him in a little bit more today,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of Joseph. “Again, special teams kind of dictated that, but when he’s using his speed he can really push defenses back and he’s got a good compete level. And ‘Joe’ has got skill.”
Teams that take a 3-0 lead in a best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final are 26-1 (.963) winning the series. Teams that lead 3-0 in a best-of-7 series in any round are 195-4 (.980) winning the series, including 3-0 this year.
Here are 3 keys to Game 3:
1. Score first
Cooper said the Lightning shouldn’t change the way they play whether they score the opening goal of the game, but that’s clearly a factor.
Tampa Bay scored first in Games 1 and 2 and won each. It is 14-2 in games when it scores the first goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and 0-4 when it doesn’t.
The Canadiens are 11-2 in games when they score first; 1-5 when they don’t.
“When you score the first goal you lock it down more than usual,” Lightning forward Pat Maroon said. “If you’re playing with the lead you’re structurally into the game, playing smart hockey, not making too many high risk plays, making the right play at the right time, being stronger in the ‘D’ zone.
“When you’re chasing the game, when you don’t have the lead, you’re making more high-risk plays, plays you probably shouldn’t be making, turnovers and all that jazz that we talk about all the time.”
2. Canadiens’ pressure
Montreal was better at forcing Tampa Bay into into turnovers and poor puck management in Game 2 than they were in Game 1, when the Lightning dictated the pace and had the puck more.
The Canadiens had 43 shots in Game 2, but Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made 42 saves in a 3-1 victory. Montreal had 19 shots in Game 1, when Vasilevskiy made 18 saves in a 5-1 win.
A repeat performance of Game 2 will give the Canadiens the best chance to make this a 2-1 series.
“I think we had some really good opportunities [in Game 2],” Toffoli said. “Obviously, he’s one of the best goalies in the League and it’s known. We just have to keep going. We had 40 shots or whatever it was last game, so keep getting there, getting in his face. I don’t know, just score.”
3. Adjusting to the atmosphere
The Lightning have been playing in nearly full buildings throughout the playoffs, including at home at Amalie Arena and on the road against the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center, the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena and New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.
The Canadiens have played in either empty buildings or in front of limited crowds for all but three of their 19 games in the playoffs (Games 1, 2 and 5 at the Vegas Golden Knights) because of local government and health regulations relating to COVID-19.
Cooper said it shouldn’t make a difference to the Lightning that there will be fewer fans for Game 3 because they played the entire playoffs last year in empty buildings in Toronto and Edmonton and won the Stanley Cup.
“That’s the irony, right?” Cooper said. “Last year at this time we were in the exact same spot, confined to the hotel room. The whole bubble circumstance has come full circle again. It’s crazy that we’re back in it again, but it’s something we’re most definitely comfortable with.”
Lightning projected lineup
Ondrej Palat — Brayden Point — Nikita Kucherov
Tyler Johnson — Anthony Cirelli — Steven Stamkos
Barclay Goodrow — Yanni Gourde — Blake Coleman
Pat Maroon — Ross Colton — Mathieu Joseph
Victor Hedman — Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh — Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev — David Savard
Injured: Alex Killorn (undisclosed)
Canadiens projected lineup
Artturi Lehkonen — Phillip Danault — Brendan Gallagher
Tyler Toffoli — Nick Suzuki — Cole Caufield
Paul Byron — Jesperi Kotkaniemi — Josh Anderson
Joel Armia — Eric Staal — Corey Perry
Ben Chiarot — Shea Weber
Joel Edmundson — Jeff Petry
Erik Gustafsson — Jon Merrill
Scratched: Jake Evans, Cale Fleury, Alexander Romanov, Lukas Vejdemo, Laurent Dauphin, Jesse Ylonen, Alex Belzile, Xavier Ouellet, Otto Leskinen, Michael Frolik, Brett Kulak, Tomas Tatar, Cayden Primeau, Charlie Lindgren, Michael McNiven
Each team is expected to use the same lineup and start with the same forward lines and defense pairs it used in Game 2.